Dr. Farooq Sattar, the Deputy Convenor of the MQM, stated in a media briefing on Feb. 26, 2011 that MQM will support new provinces, especially in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in accordance with the aspirations of the people. The Prime Minister also declared in the National Assembly on Feb. 22, 2011 that his Government. was open to creating new provinces in areas that now constitute Punjab. With two of the biggest mainstream political parties in Pakistan lending their support, the taboos against creating new provinces seem to be breaking down, and popular support for subdividing bigger provinces on the basis of administrative convenience, cultural and linguistic identity, equitable access to development funds and efficiency in general seems to be growing.
The fixation of the Punjab governments development efforts on Lahore alone is providing growing impetus to these demands. The Chief Minister of the Punjab seems to be determined to act as if he is the Chief Minister of Lahore alone. Development funds, over which all 35 districts of the province have a right, are applied predominantly to mega projects in Lahore. Allocations for Special Infrastructure in Punjab in this years development budget will highlight this tendency. All Rs. 25 billion of funds allocated for this purpose are confined to schemes serving Lahore, principally the Lahore Ring Road and the Lahore Rapid Mass Transit project. Mind you, this is only the tip of the iceberg. The budget which has been voted upon by the provincial assembly is going to be butchered over the course of the year.
Projects reflected in the Tameer-e-Watan (Annual Development) Program will remain unapproved and unfunded. Reappropriations will be made and funds will be diverted into priority projects. As a consequence, Lahore will get its Ring Road, Mass Transit, urban ransport, flyovers, underpasses, business district etc etc etc while other big cities and populous districts in the Punjab will continue to be neglected.
There is of course a strong and popular movement in Bahawalpur for the creation of a province over areas which in the past comprised Bahawalpur State. But is the need for more provinces confined to the South of Punjab only? Given that the Khadim-e-Punjab has opted to be Khadim-e-Lahore only, the answer to this question is No.
Rawalpindi is the Headquarters of the former Rawalpindi Division. With a population of 33, 64,000 at the last census (1998), as compared to 54,31,000 in the case of Lahore, it is perhaps the second most important district of the Province. It is home to the GHQ, public and private sector universities, an oil refinery, a medical college and dozens of colleges, hospitals etc. Its close proximity to Islamabad gives it added importance. And yet the district is the picture of neglect.
Murree Road connects Rawalpindi with Islamabad. With huge numbers of residents travelling to their places of work in the adjoining city, it remains choked at virtually all hours of the day. During the morning and afternoon rush hours, it is a nightmare. This has been the big daddy of the twin cities problems for years. But unfortunately it is 300 km from Lahore (and 330 from Raiwand) so no one cares. While the inconvenience of motorists at Kalma Chowk can move us to tears, the daily torture inflicted upon the Pindi-ites leaves us unmoved.
The other mega problem of Rawalpindi arises out of the fact that the city does not have a bypass for traffic. Nearly all inter-provincial traffic between the North and South of the country passes through Rawalpindi and Islamabad. All trailers, trucks, buses, cars, everything. What the cities need is a by pass taking off from somewhere near Mandra or Rewat on the GT Road and joining the Peshawar Road beyond Taxila. This would reduce travel time, congestion, pollution, cost of transportation etc. and give so much relief. But does anybody care?
Add to these the neglect and consequent decay of urban infrastructure in general and you will appreciate the merit of a demand for the province of Potohar comprising Rawalpindi, Jhelum, Chakwal and Attock districts. The government of this new province would be entitled to a share on the Federal Divisible Pool in proportion to its population. The Federal Divisible is projected to amount to Rs. 1604 billion in the current year. Punjabs share in this would be Rs. 433.08 billion. With a population which is approximately 9 % of the Punjab, the proposed Potohar Province would get Rs. 38.97 billion, to which it could add its own revenue generation. Royalty payments on oil and gas produced in the region and huge rock salt and coal deposits in addition to other minerals would make very substantial contributions. All this would add up to very substantial resources which could be utilized on felt needs of the area. The Provincial Assembly and Chief Executive of the new province would be able to focus on problems of the region and the current heartburn caused by gobbling up of its share of resources by Lahore would end.
The proposal has other merits too. Potohar has a distinct topography, climate agricultural and cultural practices etc.
As for the nay sayers, there is nothing sacred about four provinces. What is sacred is equity and fairness. India has dramatically increased the number of provinces over the years with a positive impact on national integration. The happier the constituents of the federation, the stronger the nation.