Balochistan needs more districts or better administration?

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Adnan Aamir
Quetta: Balochistan government upgraded Duki and Surab tehsils and notified them as districts under Section 6 of Balochistan Land Revenue Act of 1967, raising the number of districts in the province to 34.
Some residents are excited that the notification will lead to increased education opportunities because as districts Duki and Surab will get more seats allocated in medical and engineering colleges than as tehsils. Sami Zarkoon, a Duki resident, says that besides more education opportunities, the people will no longer need to travel long distances to get their administrative issues resolved.
But former civil servants in the province believe that on administrative grounds there is no need for new districts in the province. They say the notification is purely motivated by political concerns.
Duki is situated at a distance of 200 kilometres northwest of Quetta. It used to be a sub-district of Loralai until the notification was issued in July. Duki is the hometown of Senator Yaqoob Nasar who has reportedly been selected to head the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz as an interim chairman.
Surab is 210 km in the southwest of Quetta and used to be a sub-district of Kalat till July. After its notification as a district, Surab has been renamed as Shaheed Skindarabad after the late son of Balochistan chief minister Sanaullah Zehri who hails from the district. His son had been killed in a targeted bomb blast in 2013.
There were 26 districts in Balochistan in 1972. No new districts were formed till 2002 but the number of districts in the province reached 30 by 2007 when Harnai was notified as a district. Then, Lehri and Sohbatpur were added to the tally during the caretaker set-up in 2013.
Districts are a core pillar of administration and if needed their number may increase with time. Some of the administrative criteria that are taken into consideration ahead of notification of new districts are population size, revenue generation and accessibility issues.
However, none of these factors have played any role in notification of new districts in Balochistan, according to Mahfooz Ali Khan, former Finance Secretary in Balochistan government. Most new districts have been notified on political grounds.
Balochistan depends heavily on federal transfers to finance its budget. Revenue generated from the province’s own resources is hardly enough to balance its books. In such a situation, notification of more districts has been increasing non-development expenses and administrative overheads, cutting into the pool of funds available for development projects.
In 2016-17, expenditure on district administration in the province was Rs14.5 billion. This was a third of the general public services related expenses in the province. The addition of two more districts will increase this figure in 2017-18 for which the province has passed a budget with a deficit of Rs52 billion.
Mahfooz Khan says formation of new districts on administrative ground cannot be challenged, ‘provided we have resources and can keep new units viable’. But, he says, there is a tendency among the political leadership of Balochistan to notify tehsils and districts with little or no administrative justification. “Sherani was made a district more than 10 years ago but the district headquarter has still not been established. All operations of the district are being managed from neighbouring Zhob district,” Khan said.
“Each district needs to have at least 14 different departments. The current annual budget set aside for district administration is not enough to meet the needs of so many departments,” he said, “Increasing the number of districts will further aggravate the problem.”
Meanwhile, Jan Achakzai, the special assistant to Balochistan chief minister, rejected the suggestion that formation of new districts was not based on objective criteria.
Speaking to Daily Times, he said, “Benefits accruing to the populace were at the heart of the decision to notify the new districts.”
“The region included in the two newly notified districts comprises some of the least developed areas of Balochistan. The decision will help with governance reforms and job creation and provide more educational opportunities to the people, besides improving political representation,” he said.
Originally published in Daily Times
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