Muhammad Zahid Rifat
QUITE obviously, balanced development is essential for sustainable economic growth of the country. It essentially requires efficient allocation of resources between rural and urban areas as well as between the developed and less-developed areas of the country. Needless to mention that most of the rural areas are economically less-developed, as such development of these areas is imperative for accelerating growth in Pakistan. According to 2017 Population Census, as much as 64 per cent population is residing in rural areas of Pakistan, therefore, agriculture is the major sector which plays an important role in the development of less-developed areas as it employs a major chunk of labour force besides providing input to the manufacturing sector.
Keeping in view the importance of less-developed areas for enhancing well-being and prosperity of the people, development of agriculture sector has duly been emphasized by the federal government. Development of these areas would be underlined through increasing rural income, improving terms of trade between urban and rural areas, ensuring improved food supply system, institutions building, water and food security and market reforms. Furthermore, less-developed areas have also been identified on the basis of “Multi-Dimensional Poverty in Pakistan” which comprised 67 districts of the four provinces ie 7 districts of Punjab, 29 of Balochistan, 12 of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 19 of Sindh. The incidence of poverty (multi-dimensional poor) in these districts is more than 50% .
Special areas i.e. Newly Merged Districts (NMD) of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa erstwhile formerly Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA), Azad Jammu and Kashmir and Gilgit-Baltistan are included in less developed regions. These are predominantly rural societies, around 80% population of Azad Jammu and Kashmir, 82% population of Gilgit-Baltistan and in Newly Merged Districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa as much as 95% population is residing in rural areas. These areas are rich in natural resources that can be developed and utilized to address the issue of poverty and socio-economic inequality. According to the information gathered from the official sources, total funds of Rs 112.2 billion were allocated for development of the les developed regions during financial year 2019-20 against which only 54% ie Rs 61.06 billion were reported to have been utilized till April 2020.
These funds were provided to the special areas under different programmes and projects by the federal government in the form of block allocation and these utilized in various sectors as per priorities of the local administrations such as infrastructure, education, health, food security, industries and production, information technology, natural resources, science and technology etc. As per the available information, 186 development projects were completed in Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), in Gilgit-Baltistan 289 development projects were completed and the federal government was providing funds in the form of block allocation in NMDs of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for projects prioritized in various sectors during the last financial year.
To mainstream newly-merged districts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and to bring its socio-economic indicators at part with the rest of the country, the federal government initiated a comprehensive “The Year Development Plan” for which Rs 48 billion allocated.Details of the completed and on-going development in these special areas have been intentionally avoided to save the readers from too many figures, please. As to what has been planned by the federal government and its various ministries and divisions for accelerating developmental activities in the less-developed regions of the country particularly in the facing and competing pandemic of COVID-19 during new financial year 2020-21 will be dilated upon some other time for want of space , please.
—The writer is Lahore-based Freelance Journalist, Columnist and retired Deputy Controller (News), Radio Pakistan Islamabad.