The population criterion alone may not be appropriate for creating new districts
Last month, the Balochistan government made a decision to create a new district, Chaman, and a new division, Loralai. This has taken the number of districts in Balochistan to 34 and the divisions 8. The decision has clear political undertones and some citizens as well as media analysts have said that this may not be in the best interest of the people.
Balochistan was made a province in 1970 following the abolition of the One Unit of West Pakistan. In 1972, it had 26 districts, still considered too many by some given the sparse population of the province. For the next 30 years, no new districts were made. The PML-N-led government of late Jam Yousaf, however, had created four new districts by 2007. Two new districts, Lehri and Sohbatpur, were added by the caretaker government of 2013, taking the tally to 32. In 2017, the PML-N government created two more districts, Duki and Surab. In 2018, the Quddus Bizenjo government reversed the district on Lehri district – also for political reasons. Thus the number of districts came down to 33. That was when the incumbent government took over.
After taking over power, the Jam Kamal government started its own exercise of forming new districts. Based on the recommendation of a committee formed by the government, it bifurcated Qila Abdullah into districts and has carved out Chaman as a new district. The government has also divided Zhob division into two, thereby making Loralai a separate division.
While some vested interests are supporting the formation of new districts, this may not be in the best interest of the province. To put it into perspective, the Punjab has 36 districts and nine divisions for its 110 million population and Balochistan 34 districts and eight divisions for its 12 million people. This means that the administrative expenses of running districts and divisions of Balochistan and the Punjab are almost the same while the population of the latter is ten times as large. This means that the administering districts in Balochistan are ten times as expensive in terms of the population they serve as those in the Punjab. The Balochistan government should act rationally stop making new districts.
Ahmed Baksh Lehri, the most decorated bureaucrat in the history of Balochistan, for one is opposed to increasing number of districts in Balochistan. While addressing a Blessed Balochistan session during the National Workshop Balochistan – VII, Lehri said that Karachi, with a population of 15 million, had one commissioner and Balochistan, with a population of 12 million, had eight commissioners. “[Balochistan’s] administrative divisions are way more than what the improvished province can afford,” he told the participants.
While some vested interests are supporting the formation of the new districts, it is not in the interest of the province whose administrative resources are already spread thin. To put it in perspective, the Punjab currently has 36 districts and nine divisions for its 110 million population and Balochistan 34 districts and eight divisions for its 12 million people.
Sher Ahmed, 32, a resident of Quetta, says, “Creation of new districts will do no good. It will only increase the non-development expenditure of the province.” Ahmed adds that the resources “wasted” on the administration of the newly established districts would be better spent on improving the infrastructure for education and health services.
The question is what motivated the government to make Chaman a district and Loralai a division. The answer lies in the pressure put up by the Awami National Party (ANP) members of the provincial assembly, who the chief minister’s allies. A provincial government official told this scribe in confidence that the decision was taken to please the ANP. “The Balochistan Awami Party of Chief Minister Jam Kamal lacks the strength in the provincial assembly required to sustain the government. That is why it often succumbs to pressure from its allies,” the official said.
How do new administrative units contribute to the non-development expenditure? The newly formed district will require recruitment of new staff - from clerks to deputy commissioner. Apart from their salaries, the government will need to allocate funds for their accommodation, travel and fringe benefits. Likewise, a new commissionerate will be established in Loral, resulting in additional expenses. There is no obvious benefit, however, to the increased expenditure apart from some political mileage.
“Some people are under the false impression that the creation of new administrative units will result in creation of more jobs, which is not true,” says Ahmed. He says if residents of Qila Abdullah had a quota of 10 government jobs, they will continue to have the same quota even as they live in two new districts. “Creation of new districts in itself does not bring any tangle benefits to the citizens,” he concludes.
Another argument used to justify the creation of new districts is Balochistan’s enormous landmass. The argument goes that that since the area of the districts is huge, population is not an appropriate sole criterion in this regard. Ahmed Baksh Lehri, who served in Balochistan in all positions – from assistant commissioner to chief secretary, does not agree. Large-area districts, he points out, already have administrative sub-divisions.
The need of the hour is to rationalise the administrative divisions. This means reversing the creation of certain districts and redrawing the boundaries of some others. For instance, Harnai, with a population of 97,000, can hardly be justified as a district. It should probably be merged with Ziarat. So is the case of Surab. Likewise, Loralai and Rakshan do need to be separate divisions.
The borders of Khuzdar, Kech and Pishin may be redrawn to carve out new districts after reversing the creation of some of the smaller districts. It may be a good idea to fix the number of districts at, say, 32.
The writer is a journalist and researcher. He can be reached on Twitter: @iAdnanAamir