HYDERABAD: For economist Dr Kaiser Bengali, the process of development, in its holistic sense, can be kick started in the way ripples are created in water if a pebble is thrown in a pond. “Sindh is part of the Oil and Petroleum Exporting Countries of Pakistan [because of its huge deposits of gas, coal and oil]. But if we go from Karachi to Thatta, [nearest district to the metropolis] we find the place 50 to 100 years behind in development,” he lamented explaining that the government proclaimed efforts of ‘throwing the pebbles’ have either been piecemeal or misguided.
“There can be no justifiable reason for the existing situation. Although hundreds of billions are spent, the amount is not reflected in the actual development.”
He was speaking at an event, ‘Sindh Development Dialogue’, held at the US-Pakistan Centre for Advanced Studies in Water at Mehran University of Engineering and Technology (MUET) in Jamshoro on Tuesday.
It was organised by the Center for Social Change and Sindh Agricultural Forestry Workers and Coordinating Organisation (SAFWCO). Experts, including former state bank governor Dr Ishrat Hussain, former vice-chancellor of Sindh Agriculture University, Dr Rajab Memon, water expert Abrar Qazi and Advocate Shahab Usto, also spoke in three separate sessions.
Dr Bengali recalled that when he was the planning and development adviser, the education, water management, road connectivity, rural improvement and power generation sectors were selected for integrated development. He said that two new metropolises in Sindh, besides Karachi, were envisaged clustering eight to ten districts in Hyderabad and Sukkur.
“The plan was to integrate the economies and other government services and improve road connectivity to reduce travel time among these districts in lower and upper Sindh.” If the plan had been implemented, the new metropolises would also have reduced the burden of population upsurge and consequent problems for Karachi, while providing employment to the rural populace whose mainstay is agriculture, he believed.
“Road connectivity is like blood vessels. If we want to create a multiplier effect by spreading development from Karachi to the rest of Sindh, the roads are indispensable,” he observed. He said it was ironic that Thatta is one of the poorest cities in Sindh, even though it happens to be close to the richest city, Karachi.
According to him, travel time between these cities can be reduced from the existing two-and-a-half hours to just one hour with better roads, enabling Thatta’s residents to find jobs in Karachi without having to shift.
Dr Bengali said 85% of around 38,000 government primary schools in Sindh are functioning in only one room and that most of them have only teacher. He said by improving connectivity, the school consolidation can be achieved to provide better education facilities in the rural areas.
He believed that around 15,000 schools will suffice for the province if the consolidation plan is implemented.
“Rural Sindh is not developing because of the politicians of feudal and tribal backgrounds. They fear that if educated, the peasants and their families won’t remain subservient,” he argued, telling that he himself witnessed opposition to rural development by the provincial ministers in the cabinet meetings.
Dr Bengali deplored that Pakistan has wittingly or unwittingly developed a casino economy with most of the money being invested in speculative businesses like real estate, stock and commodity markets.
Dr Hussain shared his six-pillar strategy for development, which consisted of devolving power to local governments, enhancing governance capacity of LG bodies, establishing district level public service commission, uplifting rural females and increasing irrigation water productivity.
He said that when he was the planning and development secretary in 2003, he surreptitiously attended a meeting of Shikarpur district council. “I heard a chairperson of a union council demanding a girls’ school for his village. Another UC chairman rose and said that his village was a kilometre away from the other chairman’s village and building a road will allow the girls to easily travel to his village.”
He contended that the provincial bureaucracy which is based in Karachi is oblivious to such minute details of where financial resources should be appropriately spent for greater benefits.
Dr Hussain suggested that the katchi abadis in Karachi, Hyderabad and other cities should be regularised to give property entitlement to the residents and increase the property value while correspondingly raising property tax.
He recommended that female education, employment and entrepreneurship in rural areas should be subsidised.
He opposed land reforms while responding to a query, arguing that the inheritance of agricultural land already led to subdivision of property. Referring to the 1969, 1972 and 1977 land reforms, Dr Hussain maintained that only the revenue officials made ill-gotten wealth in the name of bogus reforms.
However, some of the participants opposed his contention and argued that inheritance divided land only among the family of a big land holder, but does not serve the interests of the landless peasants.
“There is a strong justification of land reforms,” contended Nazeer Essani, an official of the Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority.
Advocate Usto, on whose petition the Supreme Court formed the judicial commission on water and sanitation in Sindh, said the people should not expect good governance from the Sindh government. “The citizens will have to take up the responsibility of making efforts to resolve their problems,” he said giving his own example.
Advocate Usto said although he does not feel comfortable about the judicial activism intruding the executive’s domain, petitioning the court was a last resort due to persistent governmental neglect of water and sanitation problems. He said that the commission collected 460 water samples from across Sindh and found 91% water in Karachi and 87% in Hyderabad unsafe for drinking. The readings of other districts were not much different, he added.
“My question is, if we allow the things to be what they are, how much percentage of Sindh’s population will be healthy after 10 years? Or is it that Sindh will become a leprosy colony?”
The lawyer briefly shared his experiences of confronting the builder and tanker mafias in Karachi as he fought the case for the metropolis and the rest of Sindh.
“The water tankers mint trillions of rupees by selling water [in Karachi],” he claimed, adding that the commission closed the illegal businesses as only 6 out of 18 water hydrants were allowed to function in Karachi.
He deplored that Sindh Environmental and Protection Agency had developed a culture of issuing notices to the violators and taking bribes. Advocate Usto urged the academia to lead the process of development through research.
Qazi asked Punjab to reciprocate with Sindh over the sharing of river water to build trust and help agricultural economies of the two provinces to grow further. He suggested that the domestic sewage and saline water of Right Bank Outfall Drain and Left Bank Outfall Drain should be treated and used for irrigation.
Zuliqar Halepoto of the Center for Social Change said that development ideology ought to switch from being ‘security-centric’ to ‘people-centric’.
“From rural-urban disparities to the cases of malnutrition, droughts and poverty, Sindh has the worst human development indicators,” he said.
MUET Vice-Chancellor Prof Dr Muhammad Aslam Uqaili and Dr Rajab Memon also spoke at the event.