Local disparities in Punjab – PIDE Report

GENERALISATIONS mask reality and lead to oversimplified, sweeping judgments. One such judgment of our times is that Punjab is getting rich at the expense of the rest of the country. Though generally true, this hides certain specifics that clearly suggest that a lot of small detail in the big picture of a prosperous, developed Punjab is not all that pleasant. A research report quoted in the press recently asserts that some regions in the province are doing worse than even the remotest and seemingly most deprived areas in the country. The report put together by the Pakistan Institute of Development Economics (PIDE) actually makes some stunning revelations. The highest rate of infant mortality in Pakistan is not to be found in some far-flung district in Balochistan but in Sargodha, a district situated in the heart of Punjab. District Layyah in West Punjab, though slightly far-off the centre but still closer to the seats of wealth and power than Chaman in Balochistan and Thar in Sindh, has a higher incidence of poverty and lower rate of literacy than any other place in Pakistan.

Whether it is by design or by default is irrelevant. What matters is that the development process should have no favourites: when we open schools, construct hospitals, build roads and set up businesses we should not pick and choose between different parts of the country. In fact, the more backward an area is, the more it deserves the government’s attention: it should receive more money on an urgent basis to improve its development indicators. Thus alone will it succeed in catching up with the front-runners and bridging the gap.

Unfortunately this is hardly so. A report prepared by the Lahore University of Management Sciences confirms that there are glaring disparities among different regions within Punjab that have persisted over the decades. Incidence of poverty in western and southern districts in the province is more than twice as high as it is in northern and central districts. The percentage of children who do not go to schools in western and southern parts of the province is more than double that in northern and central Punjab. Not so surprisingly, people in the least developed areas in Punjab see all the hype about their province surging ahead economically as just that — hype whose reality disappears in thin air much before it can reach them. Sweeping judgments to the contrary hardly convince them. (Dawn)