LAHORE - Bahawalpur, once the richest state of the sub-continent, is now the poorest one with 56 per cent of its population living below the poverty line and where the infant mortality rate is the highest in the region.

It is also a place with the lowest literacy rate (31 per cent) but contributing a lot in Punjab’s rural economy in terms of highest agriculture yields of various crops.  Former Senator and ex-Federal Minister, Muhammad Ali Durrani, who is campaigning for provincial status for Bahawalpur region, attributed this state of affairs to apathy of successive governments towards the problems facing the people of Bahawalpur in an interview with TheNation.

Durrani, who is the first person to initiate dialogue on formation of new provinces in 2009, complained that Bahwalpur has been denied its full share of resources and official jobs in the past many years.  

During the course of interview, Mr Durrani talked at length about the issues facing the region and the constitutional and legal background in which the State of Bahawalpur acceded to Pakistan in 1947 and existed as one of its federating units till the dissolution of One Unit in 1970.    

He was of the view that it is the constitutional, legal and historical right of the people of Bahawalpur to have a province of their own and to have full control over utilisation of its resources.   Talking about grievances of the people in this region comprising the districts of Bahawalpur, Bahawalnagar and R. Yar Khan, the ex-Senator said 56 per cent of its population was living below the poverty line whereas the percentage for rest of the region was 26 per cent. It is having the lowest literacy rate (31 per cent) against 62 percent in Punjab as a whole.   

“This region produces 44 per cent of the total cotton yield, 45 per cent of mangoes, 25 per cent livestock, 22 per cent wheat, 20 per cent of rice (ire) and 18 per cent of the sugarcane, but it got Rs15 billion only under the last PFC award out its actual share of Rs 85 billion”, he complained.     “If Bahawalpur becomes a province its development budget would not be less than Rs 110 billion”, he added.  Interestingly, Bahawalpur is the only region in Pakistan where government is the major land owner instead of the people. Most of the state assets lie in

Bahawalpur where 64 lac acres of Cholistan land is also under the control of provincial government, he further informed this scribe while pleading his case for provincial status for the region.

To a question about boundaries of the new province, he said that before arrival of Sikhs in Punjab, Lodhran, Vehari, Ali Pur and Rajan Pur also used to be part of Bahawalpur State.  When asked if the people of Bahawalpur will accept a new province comprising whole of south Punjab, he replied in the negative, saying, “People there want their own identity”. 

“Federal government invested Rs 120 billion on the name of South Punjab in the last four years out of which Rs 105billion were expended in Multan district only. Construction work on Khanewal-Bahawalpur Express Way was never started despite the fact that World Bank had pledged to donate 80 per cent of the total funding”, he said pointing to the anticipated injustices his region might face if included in the proposed Seraiki province. 

He said the people in Bahawalpur were not opposed to creation of a new province comprising Multan and DG Khan divisions, but wanted a separate province for them.  

Mr Durrani said that Bahawalpur was also not getting its due share of water. The Indus Basin Water Treaty, he added, provided for construction of two link canals to keep the Satluj River flowing. They were: BS link canal and Trimmu Islam. The second one was never constructed while the BS Link water was reduced to half, thus turning Satluj river into a desert river.

It may be recalled that Senator Durrani tabled a bill in the Senate in 2009 for creation of new provinces. It envisaged provincial status for Bahawalpur, new province for Multan and DG Khan and change of procedure from two-third majority to simple majority in the Parliament and the provincial assembly concerned.

He said developing countries create provinces for more development in the form of administrative units. “In the last 40 years, five new divisions, 18 new districts and 15 new tehsils were created in Pakistan, but none in Bahawlpur region”, he said. 

It may be recalled here that the State of Bahawalpur acceded to Pakistan in 1947 and under the agreement of accession, it was to exit as a federating unit of Pakistan. On 29th of April, 1951, Bahawalpur was given the status of a province with its own Assembly which in turn surrendered its status as independent state and Nawab of Bahwalpur was given the status of governor. Elections were held in 1952 and a provincial government was put in place the same year. This arrangement continued till 1954 when Ghulam Muhammad dissolved the assemblies. The draft constitution of 1954, though never implemented, also recognised Bahawalpur as separate province with seven National Assembly seats, 42 provincial assembly seats and 4 senate seats out of 50.

Then One Unit was created in 1955 and Bahawalpur was made part of it as a federating unit. In 1970, Yahya Khan issued a Legal Frame Work Order and Bahawalpur was made part of Punjab without any reference to its 1955 status. Afterwards a movement was launched for restoration of Bahawalpur province. In 1971 elections, Muttahida Mahaz Bahawalpur won maximum seats. The movement died down due to East Pakistan fiasco.

The two MNAs from Bahawalpur, Nizamuddin Haider and Makhdoom Noor Muhammad Qureshi did not sign 1973 Constitution.