LAHORE: In Pakistan, it is common practice for welfare projects to be halted amidst political rivalries between political parties. These projects are usually the ones which were started by the government of a political party does not retain power for the next term and discarded when another party comes to power. The projects are suddenly overcome with obstacles due to which day to day routine works freezes.
Same has been the case with the Shehar-e-Khamoshan Graveyards project which was started under Punjab Shehar-e-Khamoshan Authority (PSKA) by the former Punjab chief minister (CM) Mian Shehbaz Sharif.
The Shehar-e-Khamoshan Graveyards were constructed in Lahore in 2017 and Faisalabad and Sargodha in 2018 by Shehbaz Sharif’s ‘Strategic Reforms Unit’ (SRU). This SRU was given the best and qualified staff which was highly paid, a bone of contention between the SRU employees and government employees. The salaries of the higher staff were not realistic whereas the lower staff was being paid less than their duty. The SRU itself was headed by its Director General Salman Sufi who was responsible for implementing several other projects besides the graveyards.
This authority was established under an ACT and PSKA was supposed to construct, maintain and monitor all the graveyards which were to be replicated in all 36 districts of the province. It was the mandate of the authority to provide burial services which were a call away. Different mobile numbers were given on social media as well as in the newspapers on which the staff was available. The graveyard management provided the grave, ambulance, bathing and post-burial services. It was such a modern project that even cameras had been installed so that the families of the departed souls could see their loved one’s grave while sitting at home or any corner in the world.
If you ever happen to pass by the graveyard in Lahore, you would notice that it covers an area of almost 90 Kanal and has enough space for at least 9000 graves.
Since their establishment, the three functional graveyards in Punjab have 630 graves out of which 10 each are in Sargodha and Faisalabad.
Initially, most of the publicity of these graveyards was done on social media which did not reach far. But as soon as the marketing was spread to newspapers, the locals and general public got to know about it.
Still under-publicised, I think it was a good initiative by the PML-N government as now graves in other graveyards have also become expensive with the increase in inflation.
This project could not sustain the same spirit after the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government took over.
The reasons could be of political opposition but also lack of interest in the project itself. The government needs understand that this project was for the benefit of people who could either could not afford the graves and burial services or for those who wanted a systemised procedure of the burial services of their departed beloved.
This was a much-needed project for the people at large and the staff at Shehar-e-Khamoshan Graveyards need attention now.
One thing the government needs to do immediately is to revive the concept of these graveyards by carrying out a massive publicity campaign so that the people are well informed of this service by the government.
On the other hand, an imperative problem with the lower staff of PSKA needs to be addressed. This is the matter of non-payment of salaries of low paid workers such as grave-diggers and gardeners.
If the government does not want to project the work of the previous PML-N government, they should still at least be courteous enough to pay the salaries of staff working there. The employees have not been paid since their contract expired in April 2019 in Sargodha and since June in Lahore. The employees of Faisalabad model graveyards have also not been paid.
The Shehar-e-Khamoshan Authority is awaiting the constitution of a new board which is due for over a year now. Until the board is not formed these issues will not be resolved whereas in last few days there was a directive from the Civil Secretariat which directed the Local Government to constitute a Board to resolve issues of the Punjab Shehar-e-Khamoshan Authority but due to several confusions and political issues the matter is still pending.
Further, there is no DG for PSKA and unless the new DG does not take the office the issues cannot move forward. I hope that a DG is brought on merit and not highly paid and granted with extra authority and perks like Salman Sufi. There should be someone who understands the concept of this authority and takes up the objectives further.
I think the government needs to look into this matter at its earliest because the lower staff need salaries to run their houses. The government should realise that it was not a political project.