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THE CHANGING FACE OF QUETTA

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THE CHANGING FACE OF

QUETTA

Once the ‘City of Orchards’ is in a quagmire of problems

Quetta is the city to which belongs my identity. All my life from opening my eyes to seeing, learning and examining things is related to this city. It was once an ideal city where social life was of a high order. Every institution was engaged in public service to its fullest capacity. People were connected with each other in one way or another. Respecting, accommodating and having good feelings for others were the hallmarks of the inhabitants of this city. Despite the linguistic diversity, there was no prejudice. The law and order situation was ideal and getting an illegal work done was as difficult as it was easy to get legal and fair things done.
In the past, no public official could dare to ask for a bribe or vex a citizen because the social values were very strong. Due to this reason, despite the lack of resources, my city was an example of good governance. People from all over Pakistan would come to Quetta to enjoy its pleasant weather, and scenic natural beauty, and they were welcomed with open arms by the friendly and hospitable people of Quetta. But, someone cast evil spell and the people who used to enjoy best of governance and exemplary societal harmony now rue a lack of those.
If one has a complaint regarding departments dealing with water, gas, electricity, healthcare, education, sanitation, environment, and law and order, one is vexed to such an extent that one is left with no option but to grease the palm of the officials concerned.
This biggest reason behind this ruefulness is that all public service departments lack a two-way communication system with the public. Even in today’s modern world, the provincial departments, the provincial government, and especially the district administration of Quetta, have failed to develop an app or online system that could save the people from the things that involve corruption; where people could lodge their complaints that are duly addressed and which may prevent a facility from being a nuisance; where the complainant is contacted to confirm the resolution of his/her problem or get his/her feedback; and where a robust system of accountability is in place.
At present, a number of ministries, departments, provincial governments and district administrations are using modern technology to expand their services and make public access to those easier, alongside holding the bad eggs accountable.
The Pakistan Citizen Portal, Punjab Government’s e-governance apps, LESCO’s online, and 8118 system are some examples of good governance tools. Balochistan’s only public service department that has taken the initiative to use modern technology to bring transparency and convenience in its system is probably the Traffic Police Quetta. In order to facilitate getting of new digital licences and digitization of old ones, a convenient system has been established by the department. But other departments and district administrations are still hibernating.
Take, for instance, the case of drinking water a chronic problem of Quetta. The city’s daily requirement is estimated at 150 million gallons of which WASA is supplying only 40 million gallons daily to the city whereas the rest of the need is being met either though private water suppliers who charge Rs.1200-1700 per tanker, or by the illegally-installed tube wells. In addition, there are now a number of plazas in the city that are boring their own water. Although bores have been done for many government schemes, they have not been made functional yet.
During the reign of President Musharraf, a scheme titled as “The Greater Quetta Water Supply Project” was launched whereby tube wells were installed to get water from the mountains and old water-supply pipeline were replaced. The most important part of this project was the construction of dams in the vicinity of the city to store rainwater; however, that has not been completed even after around 15 years have passed. Although around 71 percent of the city’s population has the facility of piped water, the water is supplied on alternate days – and that too for only one hour. Sometimes, load shedding or low voltage cause disruption in water supply for even weeks.
As these lines are being written, WASA has stopped supplying water to the city on Saturdays and Sundays because the finance department has stopped paying overtime to WASA officials as the former asserts that many WASA personnel are not entitled to overtime payment. So, the resultant situation now is that the city is facing the worst drinking water crisis.
When one complains about shortage of water supply, one is told that tube well is out of order, there is load shedding, there must be some problem in your connection, and so on. But, unfortunately, these issues have not been properly addressed yet. If there is a problem with your connection, you have to go to Quetta Metropolitan Corporation that will allow you to do road cutting to replace pipeline. For this, you have to deposit a fixed fee in a bank. After that, you have to surpass numerous hurdles to get your complaint addressed. On the other hand, if you can bribe the concerned officials, you can get your work done easily and within no time.
The second issue is that of power situation. QESCO is responsible for supplying electricity throughout Balochistan. By 2017-18, the number of its customers was more than 609,000, of which around 74% were domestic consumers. Besides prolonged electricity outages, low voltage is also a major problem in most parts of the province and Quetta, too, is no exception. Forty-five percent of the province’s electricity consumers are from Quetta. But in most parts of the city, especially in the central Quetta, the voltage is often so low that electronic appliances stop working. And, when it is complained about, the complainant is told of high load in the area that causes low voltage. Despite repeated complaints from consumers, the problem has existed for a long time and now it is on the rise again in the summer. But the situation of governance is that no one is ready to address public grievances in this regard.
When it comes to gas supply, Sui Southern Gas Company (SSGC) is also no less than a bogeyman. Despite gas load shedding and persistently low pressures, the company has recently introduced a weird rule that if you consume below 50cm of gas in winters, you will have to pay Rs3100 under the head Passing Un-registered Gas or PUG and Rs.700 in summers under the same head. According to the information available on the company’s website, “Slow meter charges are a type of PUG meter. Meter being a mechanical device is prone to wear and tear due to aging. SSGC replaces such meters in its scheduled meter-change program. All meters are then tested in meter testing laboratory and wherever slowness is determined, that volume is billed to the customer.” It means that if any fault is found after the meter test, the user will be charged. But, in fact, it means that an accused is being punished even before he is found guilty. Given the working of SSGC officials, who would go to test the meter? So, they have found an easy solution: charge everyone.
Quetta is a city from where a large number of people travel to their hometowns, in interior Balochistan, or to other parts of the country to visit their relatives during the winter school holidays. And, when the residents of a house are either not there or only one or two members of the family are there and those also spend most of their time in offices or other workplaces; or out of their house, apartment or flat for some construction or any other reason even then they will have to pay the same amount of bill.
The city of Quetta, known as Little Paris, was not given this epithet without any reason; its squeaky clean atmosphere earned it this title. But that now seems a thing of bygone days. The Quetta Valley is located on the slope from east to west. Almost all of the city’s sewage system consists of open drains, which were built for a limited population. But, today, even a short spell of rain makes these drains overflow and they get inundated when there is heavy rain. And after creating a flood situation in the city, this rainwater, which once was used to recharge the valley’s water table, goes waste. In the past, there was the karez system here and the water, coming from springs and cascades in the mountains located in Quetta’s vicinity, would flow underground and maintain the water level. However, later, when Quetta began to sprawl, expanding the city’s population to reach near the mountains, and the inner city and the surrounding canals, gardens, fields and arable lands that once absorbed rainwater and regulated its flow were covered by houses, buildings, plazas and roads, it resulted in the situation that a little rain today in and around Quetta makes the city’s streets look like streams. To resolve this issue, a drain has been built which is covered with perforated concrete slabs so as to avoid a flood-like situation. But, such a system can work efficiently only if it is cleaned regularly. But that is not done.
The Pakistan Social and Living Standards Measurement Survey 2018-19 depicts the situation as follows: “In Balochistan, 78% of urban households do not have a solid waste-collection system while 23% do not have access to sewerage facilities.” Most of these households are in Quetta, the only metropolitan and abode to a huge urban population of the province.
Further to comment on waste management, it seems apt to quote the UN-Habitat’s report “The State of Pakistani Cities 2018” which says that Quetta produces around 247 tons of solid waste every day, and only 50% of it is collected according to a provincial government document. In other words, about 120 tons of garbage is not collected every day. So, how a proper sanitation and cleanliness of the city can be ensured?
In addition, another big issue that the residents of Quetta are facing today is an acute shortage of public toilets. Just imagine for a moment that you are out of your house or are in the bazaar and suddenly you have feel that you need to use toilet immediately to answer the call of nature but there is no such facility around you. Then, what would you do? And if you’re a woman, then the problem is further compounded. There were once as many as 42 public toilets in Quetta but today those run by city administration are only 16 and most of them have been closed down. Not to talk about the unhygienic conditions of those still available for use.
Another distinction of Quetta was its pleasant climate. The famous Thandi Sarak surrounded by pine trees although is no more; it is still present in the memories of Quetta residents. The city where we never saw an air cooler or an air-conditioner is now witnessing huge climatic changes. Although a big part of this problem is related to international phenomenon of global warming, we as citizens are also responsible for this worrisome situation. Resultantly, the weather of the city is much hotter and more polluted than in the past. Drinking water is becoming scarce. Droughts and dust storms have started to occur frequently.
Moreover, the growing number of motor vehicles in Quetta has also increased the noise and smoke while the brick kilns and crushing plants around the city have also added to the precarious situation. Due to this reason, Quetta’s air quality has worsened nine-folds than that recommended by the World Health Organization. The seriousness of the provincial authorities in this regard can be gauged from the fact that the only unit that monitors the city’s air quality has been non-functional since long, but still no one cares.
Unemployment is another major problem in Quetta as the lack of industrial units in the city and diminishing agricultural activities have limited the employment opportunities for the people. The city has an employment ratio of only 31%, the second lowest in Pakistan’s major cities.
As per the report “The State of Pakistani Cities 2018,” most of the jobs in the city are related to the services sector which employs 74% of the total workforce, followed by industrial sector (22%) and agriculture (4%). In addition, Quetta’s share in large-scale manufacturing is 0.6%. The collected revenue from the city is worth Rs 24 billion – 0.9% of the federal tax revenue, although it is the tenth largest city in Pakistan in terms of population, according to the 2017 census.
In all these circumstances, the per capita income in Quetta is Rs.37,000 – the lowest among all the major cities of the country. From this economic scenario, you can get a good idea of poverty in the city.
Good governance is indispensable for human development and poverty-alleviation because it creates a better working public sector that adheres to the standards of transparency, participation, ownership and accountability. It creates a fair and transparent management of public resources which reduces corruption and ensures that these resources are used for the benefit of all citizens. In addition, good governance facilitates an understanding of civil, cultural, economic, social and political rights. When good governance is applied evenly, it provides a huge development benefit because it can almost triple the per capita income of the country. Therefore, good governance and human development are interlinked. Perhaps this is the reason why Quetta is different from many other cities in the country in terms of human development.
All these facts are bitter but they are true. There is certainly a lack of resources but we should, at least, make the best possible use of whatever is available. A principal reason behind Quetta’s problems, and for lack of resources in the city, is the absence of good governance. We make tall claims about ensuring good governance, but practically, we do not even try to practice it. Today, with the help of modern technology, practical efforts have begun to bring the service to the doorsteps of the people in different parts of the country. Probably billions of rupees are needed to build such a system but Balochistan is a poor province that cannot afford such luxuries. The people of Quetta, who wish for good governance, need a better future and the both federal and provincial governments should work vigorously to ensure that there is good governance in the province.

The writer can be contacted at: misteratif@yahoo.com

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