Urdu Dictionary Board struggles to operate

Lack of funds and severe dearth of research staff make finishing new projects a pipe dream

Safdar Rizvi May 08, 2021


In a turn of events that highlights the government’s disregard towards the national language, it appears the Urdu Dictionary Board, which provided Pakistan with its first official 22-volume dictionary, has been left to operate without an administrative head for more than a year.

Whereas, more than 90 percent of the department’s editorial staff has retired, leaving a single research officer to do much of all that needs to be done.

Although following the passage of some 1.5 years, the long headless dictionary board’s administrative charge was additionally handed over to National Language Promotion Department Director-General Dr Rauf Parikh, his oversight has remained limited to operating from the capital city of Islamabad.

The board’s last permanent head, Aqeel Abbas Jaffery, was appointed editor under the federal government of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in 2016, for a three-year term. His appointment was recommended by the National History and Literary Heritage Advisor Irfan Siddiqui and it was under his tenure that the board successfully digitized the Urdu dictionary. It was then for the first time that Pakistanis had access to a mobile application featuring every word and its pronunciation from the original 22-volume dictionary.

However, much of such feats are recounted today as tales from the department’s bygone glory days. On the other hand, for the past year and a half, owing to the severe shortage of editorial staff and the unavailability of funds, the department is said to have been sitting on a pile of projects either pushed to the twelfth of never or forsaken completely.

Per details obtained by The Express Tribune, one such notable project approved in the past was the launch of a children’s Urdu dictionary, which now appears to have been cast aside.

“It is due to the lack of interest of the federal government and the dearth or researchers that the project had to be quietly booted. Out of 55 sanctioned posts of the Urdu Dictionary Board, only 18 posts are now available while the remaining 37 employees of varying grades have all retired,” informed a source privy to the development.

The department’s core limitation is that the posts of its Editor-in-Chief, Editor, Deputy Editor, Research Officer and Assistant Scholars are no longer occupied, leaving a single Grade-16 Research Officer to run the affairs of the entire wing. Whereas, all others left under him are lower grade, non-editorial employees.

Explaining the details of his tenure, former editor-in-chief Aqeel Abbas Jaffery said that lack of funds has been the primary obstacle keeping the department from working on various projects, like the now-booted children’s dictionary.

Whereas, according to Tariqbin Azad, the department’s sole in-service research officer, work on various new projects, including revision of an existing dictionary and development of a new dictionary, has been reinitiated following the visit of the board’s acting head.

Speaking in this regard, Urdu Dictionary Board Acting Head Dr Rauf Parikh said that he has started work on reprinting two volumes of the dictionary, while efforts are underway to improve conditions of the board.

“The issue of unavailability of editorial staff has been discussed with the concerned ministry and details regarding appointments have been sought. We are sending them in writing. It is likely that appointments will be made by including it in the budget for the next financial year,” he told The Express Tribune.


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