Unsung chief minister @MManzoorWattoo -by Akram Shaheedi

The desert of neglect surfaced due to the apathy and toxic policies of the mandarins continues to creep in the lives of the poor people right across the country, and better days for them remain as elusive as ever, a forlorn hope indeed. Mothers are killing their own children by suffocating or throwing them in the running waters of irrigational canals due to abject poverty. It should jolt the conscious of the ruling elite and the society alike to spring into action to mitigate their sufferings they are embroiled in, further aggravated with starvation. It is its worst form that could compel the potential victims to the extent of ending their own life and of their dependents. The gluttonous life style of the elite at the expense of more than half the population of the country is both shocking and despicable and the need of the hour is that the society should make a firm resolution to create social awareness against this without waiting for the moments of too little and too late. Procrastination is bound to eat into the vitals of the social order that will inevitably fray its fabrics beyond repair.
Pakistan People’s Party’s previous government launched a flagship social security programme known as Benazir Income Support Programme that earned acclaim globally especially from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank as the role model. The opinion of the international institutions was based on the third party validation enjoying impeccable credibility. UN Secretary General, Ban -Ki Moon was on record appreciating the BISP due to its reach to the poorest of the poor. It made difference between food security and starvation. He advised the other poor countries to follow the BISP as a model for social security programme. The meager amount of around one thousand rupees per month to each household under BISP at that time was enough to buy flour for a normal size of family sufficient to meet its requirements for the whole month. Other salutary feature of the programme was that it was conceived with a view to empower the women folk who were treated as second-class members in the family and by extension by the society.
The BISP enshrined that the money will be disbursed to women head of the family and no one else. It was indeed a giant leap forward for raising the status of women especially of the poor families who were usually subject to humiliation and degradation.
Another the greatest success story occurred during the Chief Ministership of Manzoor Ahmed Wattoo in early ninety’s when he single handedly pushed the landmark programme of granting the proprietary rights to the almost 85% population living in thirty thousand villages of the province. It is relevant to mention here that prior to that more than two thirds rural population used to in their houses built on the piece of lands owned by the agriculturists or state and they
were liable to be evicted by the government functionaries or by the agriculturist community without fear of legal consequences. Such eviction would not evoke the wrath of law because of want of ownership documents for the reason they were not owners in the real sense of the word. Their status was of just settlers in the eyes of law. They were not in a position to impede the onslaught carried out on their premises at the whims of powerful.
It was not easy for the then chief minister, who was heading a coalition government, to convince the powerful lobby of landlords in the Punjab Assembly to grant proprietary right to the poor who were living on their lands for a longer period of time. The duration of their stay on these lands had not accrued the right of ownership. They remained vulnerable and apprehensive of their eviction. They were spending the days of life at the mercy of the landlords and/or officials ensiling a sense of insecurity depriving them to avail any opportunity of social development. Their huge dependence on local landlords sapped their courage and initiative to explore new avenues leading to a better life. They were treated as second-class residents within their own villages.
Manzoor Wattoo had vision and plan to extricate the tens of millions of people from the state of insecurity and instead instilling sense of belongingness. To address this issue on permanent basis, he spearheaded the legislation in the Punjab Assembly for which he had embarked upon intense lobbying in favour of the legislation. After the enactment, he geared up the whole machinery for the gigantic task of the demarcation of the each household throughout the province. It was prior requirement because under the law property could only be transferred after the demarcation. It was only due to the vision and understanding of the magnitude of the plight of homeless by the leader that today each household in the province stood demarcated and ready to be transferred to those whom these should belong to. Punjab is the only province even today with such distinction.
After the demarcation, the then Punjab government started the distribution of the proprietary rights in the province. According to the Board of Revenue Record, half of settlers of the villages in Punjab were granted the proprietary rights at that time and rest of the districts could not be covered because the government of the then Punjab Chief Minister Manzoor Wattoo was sacked. It will be wise, and in the vital interest of the rest of villagers of Punjab if the documents of proprietary rights were awarded to those who were still waiting for the valuable documents, so important for their peace of mind. Rulers of the province should not be embroiled in the cobweb of political mileage and instead think about those who are homeless and voiceless. Their acute dispossession should move the top government functionaries to feel for them and complete the task sooner than later as a number one priority. It is going to make big difference in their lives. It is worth mentioning that those who got proprietary rights were instrumental in changing the landscape of the villages because they built their houses with new and better quality building material, giving a new and polished look to such villages. The other direct result of the granting of proprietary rights was the decrease in the migration of the villagers to the urban areas due to the resultant security, which was earlier missing.
Home is dream of every individual. Manzoor Wattoo made this dream of crores of people of this province come true. This singular achievement of him stands out both in qualitative and quantitative terms. In qualitative terms, it enabled them to sleep under the roof that was their own, a great feeling. In quantitative terms, tens of millions of people of Punjab were given the title of ownership of the premises where their ancestors had been living like temporary settlers. They are highly indebted to him, Punjab is grateful to him for bringing real smile on the faces of those who deserved the most.
The writer is a former information secretary
Source: The News

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