The Thar Commission formed by the Sindh government to look into the causes of deaths of children in the area, has submitted its 300-page report to the provincial chief secretary. The report clearly blames the Sindh government for the deaths, but if the past is any indicator, the provincial authorities will find a way to absolve themselves of all responsibility. It is unlikely that the report will be taken as a lesson to fix Thar’s problems and improve the provision of services to its residents. Some of the problems that the report identifies include frequent transfers of government officials and early marriages of girls, which ultimately lead to deaths of newborns. The report also emphasises the need to appoint government officials purely on merit, offer handsome salaries to doctors working in Thar and implement the Child Marriage Act, restricting the marriage of minors.
Specific departments have been blamed for the crisis in Thar — health, education, irrigation and population welfare, among others. However, it is unlikely that officials in these departments will face any unpleasant repercussions as the ministers, secretaries and other officials are transferred from their posts so frequently that they are unable to hold their positions for more than a few months at best. Therefore, it is difficult to pin the responsibility on any single individual. What we are faced with is systemic failure in the way Sindh is governed. In the aftermath of the report, the chief minister has ordered the formation of monitoring teams to coordinate the efforts undertaken by various departments and ensure they work in harmony. What is welcome is the realisation on the part of the chief minister that the people of Thar need to be involved in resolving the area’s problems. Any development work in Thar has to benefit the local population first and then the wider province. It seems that, at least on paper, the government has shown willingness to carry out the necessary measures to fix Thar’s problems. To what extent are these efforts implemented remains to be seen.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 29th, 2016.
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