Courtesy: The Nation
Quetta is the only metropolitan city of Balochistan. People from all around the province visit Quetta for almost everything that is not available in small towns. Passenger buses and mini-wagons are the main source of transportation for people travelling to Quetta. For the last 20 days, transporters in Quetta have been on strike due to a bus stand row. Passengers who don’t have their own conveyance are suffering a great deal of misery. However, Chief Minister of Balochistan, Dr. Malik Baloch and his government are unmoved due to their apathy towards suffering of common people.
Hazar Gunji is a sparsely populated area situated 32 kilometers out of Quetta city. It was planned by previous governments to shift all bus stands of Quetta to Hazar Gunji. This plan failed to materialize due to the long distance between Hazar Gunji and Quetta. The lack of availability of proper intra-city transport made it extremely inconvenient for passengers to travel to Quetta city from Hazar Gunji. As a result, bus stands were allowed to operate from Quetta city in order to provide comfort to passengers.
Since Dr Malik and his coalition government assumed office in June 2013, efforts to shift bus stands back to Hazar Gunji intensified. Last month, government ordered that all bus stands should be shifted to Hazar Gunji with immediate effect. Transporters’ association protested this decision and suspended all forms of inter-city and inter-provincial transportation from April 20. This strike is still going on and the Balochistan government has not made any reconciliatory effort or given any indication about reversing the anti-people decision of shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji.
It’s not hard to guess why Balochistan government is adamant on shifting bus stands to a distant and thinly populated locality. The obvious reason is the handiwork of land mafia that wants to increase the price of their lands, hundreds of times, by shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji. Land mafia in Quetta, just like rest of Pakistan, has made inroads in the ruling political parties. As a result, the patrons of land mafia in Balochistan government are using their influence on Dr. Malik to discard all public opposition and go ahead with Hazar Gunji shifting decision. According to more than one sources, some parliamentarians of Pakhtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PKMAP) are actively backing the land mafia involved in Hazar Gunji fiasco. Dr. Malik is dependent on the support of PKMAP for his government so he is playing in their hands.
For the last 18 days, passengers in the province have been going through a great deal of agony. They can’t find transport to reach Quetta or Karachi. Passengers are paying fortunes to hire alternative transport vehicles to reach their destinations. Surprisingly, Balochistan government is acting as if there is nothing wrong. The attitude of Dr. Malik and his cabinet ministers suggest that they are pretending that if there is no strike.
From the standpoint of town planning, bus stands are shifted in the outskirts of cities. Balochistan government is using the same argument to defend the decision of shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji. However, the situation in Quetta is not conducive for shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji, for three main reasons:
1) Poor passengers have to pay Rs. 500, in addition to the normal fare, to travel from Hazar Gunji to Quetta and back. There is no proper public transport service available and high price charging auto-rickshaws are the only choice.
2) Hazar Gunji is not safe from the security point of view. Daylight robberies and vehicle snatching are common occurrences.
3) There is a lack of basic facilities for passengers such as adequate sitting arrangement, waiting areas, drinking water, toilets, etc.
Ignoring these ground realities Dr. Malik claims that shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji is in best interest of the people. There can’t be a bigger joke than this statement of the so-called middle class Chief Minister of Balochistan.
Karim Baksh a resident of Dhadar district of Balochistan said that he would have to bear additional expenses of Rs. 500 per trip to Quetta, if bus stands are shifted to Hazar Gunji. Mr. Karim questioned Dr. Malik as to how paying an additional Rs. 500 per trip in his best interest. For under-privileged people Rs. 500 is a huge amount and it would reduce their number of visits to Quetta and hence deteriorate their quality of life.
There can be two reasons due to which Dr. Mailk is hell bent on implementing the decision of shifting bus stands. First reason could be that he is not aware of all the aforementioned problems that people would face. In such a case he is an extremely naive and incompetent CM. The second, and more probable, reason is that he knows that people will suffer but he doesn’t want to lose the office of Chief Minister by earning the displeasure of his allies who are backing the land mafia.
People outside of Balochistan ignorantly believed that things have improved in the restive province after Dr. Malik assumed power. The example of Hazar Gunji bus stand row is one among dozens of issues which prove that the incumbent Balochistan government has no regard whatsoever for the common people of Balochistan. Dr. Malik Baloch and his ministers move in convoys of dozens of vehicles. Why would they care if a common passenger in Quetta suffers due to a decision which is meant to benefit land mafia and ensure continuation of their perks and privileges?