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SAHIWAL: A skill development centre for women at Chichwatni has been functioning badly because no department concerned is ready to take its ownership, Dawn has learnt.

Sanatzar, was envisaged by the then district nazim Rai Hasan Nawaz during early days of Musharraf regime for the tehsil headquarters and the idea was materialised in 2005 with establishment of the centre in a portion of the Government Primary School Branch No 1, Block No 10.

Sources say the provincial social welfare department had opposed the idea of opening up a skill development centre for women at tehsil level but Mr Rai somehow got it approved for his hometown.

Initially, provincial planning and development (P&D) department had recommended 13 permanent posts for Sanatzar in 2005 but unfortunately the SNE for these slots could not be approved till date and the centre fell a victim to adhocism since its inception.

For the last nine years neither the provincial social welfare, women development and bait-ul-maal department is ready to own the centre, nor the district government takes its financial and administrative responsibility.

Since its inception the centre has only received around Rs1 million grants twice from the district government –first in 2004-5 and then in 2010.

According to the feasibility report prepared by the district government, Sanatzar was envisaged as a centre training some 200 women annually in various skills like those of beautician, tailoring, stitching, machine and handmade embroidery and computer etc.

After inauguration of the centre’s new building, it was handed over to the district social welfare department in June 2005. A plaque at the centre still bears the department’s name. However, under an internal arrangement, the local social welfare department gave additional charge of Sanatzar to Ms Razia Bano, who was then running a similar centre at Sahiwal.

To make the centre functional, a minimal staff comprising a clerk, a peon and two instructors were transferred to Chichawatni from Sahiwal.

Mian Bilal Qammer, a former councilor of the area told Dawn that initially there was good response and more than 200 women got enrolled for different courses at the centre.

The situation started worsening when provincial social welfare department not only refused funds for Sanatzar, but also relinquished its administrative control, citing lack of financial resources.

Social Welfare District Officer (DO) Alamdar Shah said during the last nine years dozens of letters had been exchanged between EDO (F&P), Sahiwal and the provincial social welfare department on the issue of ownership, but to no avail.

As per the official record, no correspondence has occurred between the two sides after October 3, 2012.

So, for the last nine years, four staff members of the centre had been working on ad hoc basis.

Ms Bano said though the last ‘Performance Evaluation Report’ prepared in 2008 appreciated the centre’s working but nothing was done to run it smoothly.

She said till date more than 1,700 female students had passed out from the centre after learning various skills to earn their living honourably.

Sources say because of the financial uncertainty and lack of ownership the number of students getting admission in the centre has been squeezing, especially for the last 3-4 years. Now the centre had been left with just 50 students.

Ms Hafiza Saleem and Ms Jawaria Nazir, who have passed their matriculation and intermediate examinations, respectively, told Dawn they wanted to learn machine embroidery but no trained instructors were available at the centre.

Ms Bano said though the centre had a working computer lab and beautician room but there were no instructors to run the relevant courses.

“We have rented out both sections to a private contractor but they are not functioning well under the new arrangement,” she added.

The sources said because of funds unavailability the gas connection of the centre was likely to be severed soon.

Ms Bano also deplored lack of sanitation around the centre, saying that despite her repeated requests Chichawatni Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA) did not remove the garbage heaps lying near the centre’s gate which had become a haunt for drug addicts.

Alamdar Shah admitted lack of funds and permanent professional staff is the biggest problem.

Ex-district councillor Ms Waheeda Manzoor said: “The condition of Sanatzar also speaks volumes about the mind-set of provincial bureaucracy which is not ready to fund a useful project conceived by a head of local government (district nazim)”.

Local social worker Salim Ansari said the city with a population of over 100,000 people badly needed the centre.

People from various walks of life, including traders, social and political activists also stressed the need for running the centre smoothly.

Former district nazim Rai Hasan Nawaz who is also the sitting MNA of the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf from Chichawatni city said: “The provincial social welfare department must take ownership of Sanatzar, where 50 female students were learning machine embroidery.”

Published in Dawn, June 12th, 2014