[Opinion] Rising Voices for Gojal Valley

Abdul Waheed

Natural and man-made disasters happen from time to time, most allowing the affectees to recover gradually. But the calamity at Attaabad which triggered a human induced disaster is still in its full swing. In fact, with the passage of time the difficulties are continuously increasing instead of decreasing because of the negligence of the authorities.

People lost their houses, lands, businesses infrastructures and what ever they had as their fixed or mobile properties. But the recovery seems to be nightmare. Here I would like to highlight some of the burning issues and their direct impact on the lives of the stranded people of Gojal.

NESPAK, NHA, FWO, Planning Commission of Pakistan, Flood Commission of Pakistan and NDMA are the relevant organization and departments dealing with such situations but none of them has yet owned the responsibility to release water form the artificial lake even after fourteen months. In order to keep the public silence, initially the FCNA allocated the task to FWO to release the water for the artificial lake. The FWO doesn’t have the desired capacity to deal with this kind of mega projects, however it started working on the site and after six months of consecutive work on the site they were unable to furnish the task, rather it resulted in the formation of a huge water reservoir stretching to 28 km area. They promised to reduce the spill way at least 100 feets by the end of May 2010, but they could succeed to remove only 20 feet mud and stones form the surface.

This year FWO made another commitment to cut down the spill way by another 100 feet so as the water level of the lake could be lowered. Will this task be possible for FWO to cut down the spill way and meet their target while getting the submerged bridge between Gulmit and Shishkat by the end of May this year? The past experience and our serious observations show that again this task will remain unfinished resulting in further delays on the construction of KKH and by jeopardizing the task of NHA to start the 9 km tunnel project form Ayeenabad to Attabad besides putting the announced loan of 275 million dollars form China for the construction of the said tunnel. During the second week of March 2011 a high level delegation comprising of 30 officials from China and Pakistan visited the spillway and declared the progress on the project as unsatisfactory.

Although a fund of Rs. 315 million is available in the official account of the Chief Secretary, GB for the last eight months for the settlement of IDPs within their own area or elsewhere in GB. The political representatives are not pro active on this issue and have shown little interest to settle the IDPs resulting in frustration and mistrust among the affected population.

Another core issue relates to the government’s notification declaring Tehsil Gojal as calamity hit area on March 17, 2010 and announcement of some basic incentives for the inhabitants of the area such as agriculture package, one year tuition fee assistance for students, remittance on small loans and utility bills.

In this regard two times application forms with claim of one year tuition fee were collected from the students. This process took almost nine months and a total claim of rupees 80 million against tuition fee was submitted to the education department in September 2010 thorough the concerned ADIS. The government released only 10 million rupees in November 2010 and made payment s to some local educational institutions while rest of the amount is still in pending.

Moreover, it was declared that the direct affectees and especially IDPs will be given preference regarding tuition fee compensation but the funds were distributed on special recommendation of political figures and pressure of the students who are studying in Gilgit town. Whereas, the students studying in the down country are still waiting for the assistance and some directly affected individuals are badly suffering especially those who are facilitating their children in premier institutions in down country. This delay has created frustration among students and their parents. The people are asking about the pending Rs.70 million to be released to compensate the remaining students form the area nationwide.

Likewise, 12 hours load shedding has been imposed throughout the region although only one turbine out of three is non-functional, where as the water and power department is also playing delaying tactics for the maintenance of the turbine but disconnection notices have been served to the public for non payment of bills to the concern department. It is surprising to note that although half of the telephone lines have been submerged into the lack but still the department is serving bills for line rents. On the other hand remittance on micro level loans were announced by the authorities but harassment of poor farmers by the local magistrates is on peak to recover the outstanding loans.

Despite of hundreds of announcement and promises by the government authorities the Civil Hospital Gulmit is still waiting for doctors. Pak Army and some NGOs organized medical camps in the hospital but the health department is still not serious to depute a doctor to provide basic health facility to twenty five thousand stranded people of the area. The member legislative council and speaker GBLA confessed and admitted in front of local media that the health department and particularly the secretary health is not ready to listen to this particular issue. The elected representatives seem to be helpless before the government bureaucrats.

On the occasion of last visit to Gulmit the honorable CM G-B confirmed that due to shortage of development funds the approval of the PC-4 for the allocation of staff to Civil Hospital in Gulmit might not be possible even in forthcoming ten years time.

Transportation and communication problems are another area of focus which have negatively impacted on the daily lives of the local communities. The commuters have to transit at 4 places to reach Gilgit form Sost. Besides the traveling hurdles the transporters are charging a huge fair form the public who are compelled to travel on different accounts to meet their needs and requirements The authorities are not taking any notice and are silent on this subject. Moreover, in order to overcome the crucial problems of boat traveling, a budget of rupees 17 million was allocated in the Early Recovery Plan, whereas, 8 million was allocated to purchase two season-friendly and safe boats while 9 million was allocated to meet the operational costs for 18 months. In this regards NATCO was given assignment for the purchase and operation of boats. Although NATCO has purchased two 1948 model Carotian made capsules which are neither season friendly nor safe. Moreover both the boats are off the shore from very first day due to engine frailer soon after its opening ceremony by the CM, GB. Both the purchase and operationalzing the NATCO boats have become another drama with the people of Gojal.

Shortage of Fuel and its high prices have created another crisis in the area. Dealers are charging double price which directly affects both the transportation fairs and use of machineries for farming. 186000 litter of fuel was received form China as relief to meet these difficulties of the people of Gojal, whereas, the local authorities sold the same fuel to non local transporters by increasing the troubles of the natives double time.

On the other hand the political representatives are aware of all above mentioned issues and dilemma but have adopted an easy formula by registering FIR against the innocent youngsters who are compelled for voicing against the so many troubles and injustices.  The elected representatives of the area and the government officials should try to generate employment opportunities and other sources of income to the native youngsters to keep them engaged in purposeful activates.

It is hoped that the government as well as civil society organizations will join hands and work together for the removal of the grievances of the directly affected people by addressing all the above mentioned issues on priority basis.

The contributor is a development professional and activist, having a Masters in Development Studies. He can be reached at abdulwaheedgmt@yahoo.com

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