In the budget speech, Punjab Finance Minister Dr Ayesha Ghaus Pasha said that the focus of the budget of fiscal year 2015-16 will be on eliminating poverty, empowering youth, overcoming energy crises and strengthening agriculture. Education, health and law and order situation will be given the top priority. However, this budget perhaps means budget for central Punjab and not certain underdeveloped areas of Punjab, which are not a priority for the Punjab government. The Saraiki area (normally tagged as ‘south Punjab’) faces the worst crises since the announcement of this budget. While Rs258 billion are dedicated to energy projects, this does not include overcoming the energy crises in this region. People in urban cities like Multan, Bahawalpur and surrounding vicinities face 18 hours of load shedding daily. No budget for a new women’s university is announced. 27 percent of the budget for education and 14 percent for health include no specific budget for a medical college or engineering university. No development projects are announced for providing basic education, sanitation, low cost housing, community health centers, scholarship funds for youth, adult literacy, and youth training programmes. While this area produces excellent handicrafts, hand embroidery and cotton industry, no micro finance projects are considered important for the empowerment of poor women who have no security for the upbringing and education of their children. Something along the lines of ‘Khud Rozgar Scheme’ for the minorities could have also helped other people belonging to various rural areas within this region.

The only lollypop that the Punjab government has given to the Saraiki people is that of a Metro Bus project in Multan. Surprisingly, in the area which constitutes the major part of the Punjab province (23 districts), the Punjab government has endorsed the budget of Rs30 billion for 18 kilometre long bus project, while the common people struggle to secure petty jobs in both the public and private sectors and struggle for basic living facilities.

In addition to this, the area also faces a terrible land grabbing and industrial exploitation. The Punjab government in the name of a solar energy project has installed 100MW Quaid-i-Azam Solar Energy Park in Bahawalpur which spreads over the area of 500 acres and will cost $131 billion. This is a project of an industrialist, owning a private company, and the owner is an official of the Punjab government. There are two problems with establishing such projects. Firstly, discussion with local people about this project indicates that the chemical rays and processes through which this plant operates can impact the health of the people living in the surrounding areas. Secondly, the announcement of 800 jobs being given to people working in this project will not necessarily include the local people like many other projects installed in Cholistan and Rahim Yar Khan recently. A recent incident evidently indicates such a discrimination against local people who are clearly not being accommodated by important government officials and industrialists operating within this region. Another incident in the Janpur locality of Rahim Yar Khan district indicated that local villagers are being forced to migrate to Balochistan in search of petty jobs. As their domiciles are from Punjab, they are brutally killed by Baloch extremists and the Punjab government has failed to announce any financial package for the victims’ families. An interaction with them indicated that as local mill owners hire staff from central Punjab, these people are forced to send their youth to Balochistan for earning their living. If job opportunities are created for the local people, they will be able to spend a secure life within their own regions and the region will flourish too. However, in the present circumstances, they face dual neo-colonization; firstly, by the local landed elite and industrialists or officials and secondly, through becoming victims of ethnic cleansing within their own country.

In the present circumstances, it is only the people of the Saraiki belt who need to become aware of the exploitation that the region faces and can take a stand for their basic rights. It is time that instead of giving false hope to people by introducing glamorous mega projects, the problems at local level are amicably resolved so that people can spend secure lives and earn locally. One of the reasons behind the ongoing crises in Pakistan is the unequal distribution of economy in this country and once again, the recent budget is a classic example of this.

Most recently, the budget that is being spent on the Orange Line project in Lahore has resulted in the deaths and dislocation of poor people. Most of all, more than two dozen heritage spots are being bulldozed to create this line. It only seems that running the country is only a business deal for the PML-N government regardless of people emotions, identities and living concerns.