KARACHI: The provincial government has massively cut down the human rights department’s development budget, allocating only Rs50 million for the fiscal year 2013-2014 as compared with the Rs137 million for the previous year.
The slash stems from the fact that no new schemes have been proposed for the new fiscal year. With the state of human rights deteriorating in the country and violence spiralling in Karachi, it appears as if the department won’t be able to improve its performance which has already been dismal. Over the past few fiscal years, the department failed to spend the allocated money on projects, earning the reputation of being one of the most ineffective departments.
In the outgoing fiscal year, the department received a budget Rs137 million as part of the Annual Development Programme (ADP). It had proposed only three projects - the setting up of a human rights complaints cell, free legal aid at the district level and human rights awareness campaigns. The same projects have been repeated this time around.
Former human rights minister Nadia Gabol was removed from her post because of dual nationality last year and went on to become the department director. She failed to make her mark, doing little else apart from holding a few seminars and visiting disaster sites.
Nevertheless, the reduction of the department’s budget as compared to the previous fiscal year has already started to attract criticism. One human rights activist who wasn’t happy with the cut was Mahnaz Rehman. “The budget should have been increased for the common people, whose rights are violated. If the performance of the department was no good, the authorities should have had worked on accountability rather than reducing funds.”
Rehman pointed out that the caretaker minister Anis Haroon who took charge for three months, did try to bring a change in the department. He formed a Sindh Commission for Human Rights, oversaw the formation of protection committees under the Domestic Violence Bill and released funds for skill development.
While talking to The Express Tribune, Pakistan Peoples Party’s MPA Sharmila Farooqi said the department’s budget had been cut because it was going to be merged with another one. “Most work which the human rights department was supposed to do was being done either by other departments and social welfare groups.”
New fiscal year, same amount
Even the province’s religious minorities seem to have gotten the short end of the stick - the chief minister made no mention about them in his budget speech, and the development budget for vulnerable groups remains the same for the new fiscal year.
Under the ADP, the provincial government has once again allocated Rs720 million to the minorities affairs department.
Only four new projects are a part of the new developmental budget - this includes the unapproved scheme on the construction of Bhamdara Hall and rooms of Shankar Anand Temple, and renovation of Samada Ashram Temple in Shikarpur. The old schemes include construction and repair of religious places, and renovation of various temples in Sindh.
In the current fiscal year, the department, headed by minister Mohan Lal, failed to do much work apart from spending a portion of the funds on temples in rural Sindh, including Sadhu Belo Temple in Sukkur.
While the former minister was unavailable for comment, Hassan Ali Sharif who headed the ministry under the caretaker setup, said the department had no guidelines and policies on how to use funds. “Schemes regarding safety and security of the minorities followed by education should have been the priority in the development project.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 18th, 2013.