THARPARKAR - People drag dead animals’ carcasses over sand dunes, women fetch water from miles away, malnourished children are sick, parents uneducated, youth jobless and schools empty.  This is Thar, a vast desert region known for frequent droughts, abject poverty, illiteracy, poor health and old lifestyles!

This is the area which is considered highly backward, where education, health and modern lifestyle are a dream.

“In other word, we can say that Tharris are living in centuries old socio-economic conditions,” laments Suresh Kumar, a schoolteacher in at Islamkot.

According to Kumar, Tharris are still ages away from the modern life in this 21st century. They spend their entire day to get basic means of life. Standing in long queues to fetch water or travelling miles for medical treatment are the best examples to express the ordeal of Tharris.

“But there are still some positive signs to suggest that a much deeper shift is taking place at a local level,” he points out.

“Such as plantation of reverse osmosis plants, development of schools, new jobs opportunities, construction of hospitals and most importantly the people from the crushed working class contesting the upcoming general elections next month,” he says optimistically.

In fact, Kumar refers to recently elected Senator Karishna Kolhi, a woman from the Tharparkar district, who worked as bonded labourer for quite some time in the past.

BREWING CRISES

In an area named Godhial, a large number of the women and children gathered at two separate water tank constructed by a private company, Pak Oasis Private Limited, as they struggle hard to fill their Mashkeezas (water bags). Outside the building, a makeshift water pond was also built for animals to drink water. Abdul Karim Solangi, hired by Pak Oasis Limited to make functional the RO plant, said while talking to The Nation that this plant is going to shut down within few days as they have been deprived of their monthly salaries for the last two months.

“I earn only rupees12,000 per month to operate the RO plant, but now the company has nothing to accommodate us,” he tells sadly, adding, “I am the sole bread earner for the eight-member family. What should I do?” he asks helplessly.

Solangi is not alone. He says nearly 1,200 other employees hired to look after operations of different plants are facing the same fate.

However, he says that installation of sweet water plants is a revolutionary step and they should continue operations any way.

‘STILL AT RISK’

In 2015, the M/s Pak Oasis Limited installed 589 RO plants in villages to provide filtered water to Tharris. The company’s operations, according to locals, were good but now it was going to shut down its operations.

They installed filtration plants to remove high TDS content from water. The largest RO plant was installed in Mithi district headquarters. This one plant can treat two million gallons of water daily using solar energy or electricity.

But now on the directives of the Supreme Court-appointed water commission, the control of filtration plants is being transferred to the provincial Public Health Engineering Department. Earlier, the plants were being operated under the control of the special initiative departments and energy department.

Deputy Commissioner of Tharparkar Hafiz Saiyal said while talking to The Nation that these RO plants had remained an entity of the government but now they were being handed over to public health engineering department and later on they would be handed over to another private company through a bid to make them functional.

“There is nothing wrong,” he maintained, adding that the issue of payments would also be resolved.

WHAT PAK OASIS SAYS

CEO of Pak Oasis Irshad Hussain told The Nation that public-private partnership is most important for any development. Pak Oasis has vast experience to run these filter plants, but government has stopped the payments, he said.

He says the reason RO plants are getting out of order is that cartridges of plants need to be replaced every week and machinery has to be maintained. All this has a price but they have no interest in running the plants.

“We are only a company, which has capability to run the plants, otherwise, they (plants) will go directly to junkyard,” he comments.

According to a letter available with The Nation, the Sindh government owes Pak Oasis Rs350 million.

ELECTION SPRING

On the last day of submission of nomination papers for the candidates contesting the upcoming general elections, a police mobile appeared on the main street of Mithi city. The policemen stopped the traffic for a huge convoy of buses and cars heading towards the city. Their lean bodies and torn cloths reflected their socio-economic condition.

The convoy was led by former provincial chief minister Arbab Ghulam Rahim, chieftain of his tribe, who was going to submit his nomination papers to the returning officer. These convoys and other political dignitaries depict how the Tharris have been living in the stone-age feudal system. These are the constituencies where candidates belonging to the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), Grand Democratic Alliance (GDA) and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) are contesting elections in 2018.

Suhail Rathor from an influential family of Islamkot says that for decades the politics of Thar is controlled by chieftains of Nohari, Rahmoon and Samejo tribes. “They basically develop some parts of Thar due to their own interest,” he says, adding that “water filtration plants were also installed to serve only some parts of Thar”.

He claims that these RO plants are serving only 40 percent of population of Thar. “It is responsibility of our leaders to develop this area sincerely. Development should not be done only for political point scoring,” he concludes.