Public health dept’s role curtailed

Water policy transfers supply, sanitation schemes to local govt department

Khawar Randhawa May 22, 2024
Health ministers from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan expressed concerns about the unavailability of common-use medicines, attributing it to non-viable prices. photo: file


The Punjab government has decided to transfer the major functions of water supply and sanitation schemes to the Local Government and Community Development (LG&CD) Department from the Public Health Engineering Department (PHED).

The functions had been managed by the PHED since 1947, covering 80% of Punjab's rural population.

On April 30, the Punjab cabinet approved the decision mandating that the LG&CD Department will now be responsible for providing water supply and sewerage services within it.

As per the new directive, the LG&CD Department will identify and sponsor water supply and sewerage schemes in the annual development programme, with the PHED acting solely as the executing agency.

Upon completion, the PHED will hand over the schemes to the sponsoring agency for operation and maintenance (O&M).

Local governments will have the option to either outsource the O&M back to PHED or manage it themselves.

Moreover, the PHED will no longer sponsor or execute schemes related to open drains, street pavements, tuff tiles or soling. It will only be involved in major water supply and sanitation projects costing Rs100 million and above.

A PHED officer, speaking anonymously, expressed fear that the move could undermine the sustainability of functional water supply schemes.

He highlighted the absence of local bodies in Punjab for the past few years and the reversal of a similar experiment in the past after the wastage of considerable time and resources.

The officer claimed that the decision to limit PHED's involvement to projects exceeding Rs100 million would prevent rural communities from benefiting from small-scale water and sanitation schemes.

He said more than 3,000 community-based organisations (CBOs) were managing rural water supply schemes, while the LG&CD Department had struggled to maintain urban services.

Another official said the department lacked the capacity to handle the extensive urban and rural water infrastructure.

The officer also expressed concern about the future of PHED's experienced and trained staff. He recalled that the failed devolution of the PHED in 2001 had been reversed in 2005.

Published in The Express Tribune, May 22nd, 2024.


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