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There has been a move recently towards the creation of the Province of South Punjab. This will, of course, require a broad-based political consensus and a two-thirds majority vote in the Parliament to happen. The merit of this, of course, is that it will lead to a more balanced Federation with less divergence in the population size of federating units.

There is a perception that South Punjab has not received the due allocation of resources within the province of Punjab. Also, access to government departments has been restricted because of long distances. However, efforts are on-going for establishing physically a South Punjab Civil Secretariat in Multan and Bahawalpur.

The objective of this article is to highlight the key demographic and economic magnitudes of South Punjab. An attempt is made to highlight the variation in the level of regional development of South Punjab versus Central and North Punjab.

The region referred to as South Punjab consists administratively of three divisions, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, and Multan, with a total of eleven districts out of the 36 districts in the whole province of Punjab.

According to the Population Census of 2017, the three divisions combined of South Punjab had a population of 34.7 million. This is equivalent to a share of 31.6 percent in the whole population of Punjab. The share in urban population was 23.2 percent, while the share in rural population was 40.6 percent.

The relatively low level of urbanization in South Punjab has implied that it has only one Metropolitan / Municipal Corporation with a population of above one million in Multan, with a population of 1.8 million. The rest of Punjab has six such Corporations.

The population growth rate has been somewhat higher in South Punjab in the inter-censal period, 1998 to 2017, at close to 2.3 percent, as compared to 2 percent in the rest of Punjab. The Dera Ghazi Khan division has shown a high population growth rate of almost 2.8 percent.

The geographical area of South Punjab is 48.5 percent of the total area of the province. The population density was 349 persons per sq km, as compared to 711 persons per sq km in the rest of the province. The lower density has made provision and access to services more difficult.

Turning to the economic characteristics of the regional economies of Punjab, it is probably fair to say that South Punjab is the agricultural heartland of the province. It accounts for 87 percent of the output of cotton, 49 percent of sugarcane, 45 percent of wheat and 15 percent of rice.

One of the big surprises about South Punjab is that despite its strong agricultural base, it is characterized by a relatively low level of industrialization. According to the Punjab Bureau of Statistics, only 15 percent of the registered factories in the province are in South Punjab, with only 13 percent of the employment.

This sectoral imbalance is perhaps the main feature of the history of development of South Punjab. It highlights the need to focus on impediments which have retarded industrial growth, especially in textiles, despite the closer proximity of Multan and Bahawalpur to Karachi Port.

The latest State of Industry report of NEPRA of 2021 on the power sector also provides very useful information on the relative level of regional development within Punjab, based on the level of electricity consumption.

There is one DISCO, the MEPCO, which caters for the whole of South Punjab. There are four other DISCOs, namely, FESCO, LESCO, GEPCO and IESCO, which sell in the rest of Punjab. MEPCO accounts for only 14 percent of the industrial electricity billing in Gwh in the province. This is consistent with the finding above on the low share of industrial employment.

South Punjab, again as shown above, has a large share in agriculture with over 51 percent share in the agricultural power billing. The relatively lower per capita income is highlighted by the 24 percent share in domestic electricity consumption, as compared to a population share of 31.6 percent.

We focus next on the level of human development in different parts of the province of Punjab. The first indicator is literacy. The overall literacy rate of the province was 64 percent according to the Population Census of 2017. Division-wise the corresponding rates were 57 percent in Multan, 50 percent in Bahawalpur and 47 percent in Dera Ghazi Khan.

The findings of the latest Pakistan Social and Living Standards Survey of 2019-20 have been released recently by the PBS. The ranking of districts of Pakistan is given in the indicators of health, education, and standard of living. These rankings have been used along with other sources to construct a Human Development Index (HDI) of each division of Punjab.

The HDI values and the implied level of development are given below:

HDI* of Divisions of Punjab
Divisions of Rest of Punjab                     Divisions of South Punjab
Rawalpindi        0.75        H         Multan              0.50        M
Lahore            0.73        H         Dera Ghazi Khan     0.42        L
Gujranwala        0.62        H         Bahawalpur          0.41        L
Faisalabad        0.59        M
Sargodha          0.55        M
Sahiwal           0.48        L
H = High, M = Medium, L = Low * HDI ranges from 0 to 1

Therefore, only one division, Multan, in South Punjab has a medium level of HDI. The other two divisions, Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur, have low levels of HDI. As compared to this, there are three divisions in the rest of Punjab, namely, Rawalpindi, Lahore, and Gujranwala, which have already attained a high level of HDI.

The perception of a bias against South Punjab in public expenditure allocations can be removed by a sharing formula which recognizes the need for higher transfers based on the lower population density and lower level of HDI, as is the case currently in the 7th NFC Award. It is essential that all efforts are made to improve the development prospects and the living standards of the people of South Punjab.

(The writer is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister)

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Dr Hafiz A Pasha

The writer is Professor Emeritus at BNU and former Federal Minister


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