Dharabi Dam Chakwal
Dharabi dam, the largest water reservoir in Chakwal district, is unused due to flaws in its design. — Photos by the writer


General election may be scheduled for 2018, but the people of Chakwal are already talking about the promises political parties made to them to win the last one.

Naturally, the promises of PML-N they voted to power echo most in the exercise. For the promises made by Nawaz Sharif rang sweetest in the ears of the Chakwal electorate in the 2013 election season.

“If voted into power,” said Mr Sharif during the election campaign, “I would establish a university, a medical college, small dams.”

Above all, just days before the polling day, he promised a big election rally in Talagang on May 5, 2013, that his government would upgrade the Talagang tehsil to district, lay a gas pipeline “so that women in this area could prepare food easily” and build a motorway from Balkassar to Dera Ismail Khan.

“But to get something you have to give something first,” he had reminded the cheering crowd.

His emotive younger brother Shahbaz Sharif landed in Chakwal the next day with extra promises – a state of the art hospital and facility of clean drinking water.

No wonder the PML-N swept the polls in Chakwal district – two National Assembly seats and four in the Punjab Assembly, with one more MNA and one MPA on reserved seats.

In reward, a senator and an advisor and a minister to the chief minister of Punjab were chosen from Chakwal.

District Headquarters Hospital Chakwal
Chakwal’s District Headquarters Hospital is unable to cater to patients with serious conditions. — Photos by the writer

Yet, three and half years later not a single promise has been fulfilled. In the meantime the prime minister has made four visits to Chakwal, and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif two visits. Indeed, the latter undertook the visits more to oblige personal friends’ educational institutes.

Mr Nawaz Sharif came in July 2014 to launch the Mandra-Chakwal Road and Chakwal-Sohawa Road projects, which his predecessor Raja Pervez Ashraf had already done in September 2012.

The prime minister had announced at the re-launch ceremony that the two Rs10 billion projects would be completed by July 2015.

In his second visit to Chakwal, the prime minister only inaugurated the reconstruction of the Lahore-Islamabad Motorway.

His third visit to the remote village Bharpur was to condole with his family friend Abdul Razaq Jami at the death of his wife.

And his recent one to Katas Raj was limited to attending a ceremony arranged by the Evacuee Trust Property Board which manages the historic Hindu temples.

“The people of Chakwal are resentful that the rulers they voted for did not live up to their promises,” said Chaudhry Ghulam Rabani, a senior journalist from Talagang. “People here put faith in the Sharif brothers’ promises, but they dashed their hopes.”

“Even if work is started now on any project they had promised, it wouldn’t be completed before the 2018 general elections,” he added, pointing out to the reverses the ruling PML-N suffered in Talagang area in the recent local bodies’ elections.

“It lost the municipalities of Talagang and Lawa to the PML-Q. People’s reaction could be more severe in the 2018 general election,” warned Mr Rabani.

The Chakwal district, with a population of more than 1.5 million, is among the top three districts of Pakistan in literacy rates but the establishment of a university remains a distant dream for its residents. Only a few of the more than 400 students of the district who graduate each year are able to join master’s courses in other cities.

For worse the problem is more severe, as the overwhelming majority of them have to abandon hope for higher studies after graduation. Parents’ low incomes and social taboos stand in their way to go to big cities.

According to Chakwal MNA Tahir Iqbal, the government is not serious about the issue.

Even a proposal to establish a sub-campus of the Punjab University in Chakwal was rejected by the Higher Education Commission (HEC). Sources told Dawn that the reason given was that such a sub-campus exists in Jhelum, which is just 40km away.

“It reflects utter ignorance of the HEC,” Mr Iqbal said. “Chakwal is 120km away from Jhelum, not 40km. It badly needs a public sector university.”

“More than 60,000 residents of Chakwal serve as soldiers. Every other day the district receives a body of a martyr. We badly need a university for the children of our martyrs and other children,” he said.

Educationists in Chakwal, however, would prefer a proper university over a sub-campus.

“With its high literacy rate, Chakwal deserves a full, accredited university on merit, not a lollypop. We suspect that the sub-campus politics will close the door on a full university for decades,” said Shahid Azad, the district president of the Punjab Professors and Lecturers Association.

Promises of healthcare, small dams and clean drinking water projects in Chakwal district also need to be redeemed.

The existing District Headquarters Hospital receives some 2,000 patients daily.

But it is unable to cater to serious ailments as posts for cardiologists, neurosurgeons and other specialists are vacant.

Any person who suffers cardiac arrest or a head injury is taken to Rawalpindi or Islamabad.

Although the Punjab government has built a Rs260 million state-of-the art trauma centre in Kallar Kahar it has failed to make it functional.

“Patients suffer a lot in Chakwal for want of a good public hospital,” observed a senior official from the district health department.

Chakwal city’s water shortage problem can only worsen as funds for a water supply scheme approved in 2015 have yet not been released.

The incumbent government has built no new small dam and the three mega dams which the previous government had built in the district, at a total cost of Rs1 billion, are useless due to flawed designing.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2017

Courtesy : DAWN

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