Nathiagali rest house

Published January 8, 2016

ACROSS Pakistan, there have been many instances where public infrastructure has been arrogated by the civil and military bureaucracy for its own exclusive use, or worse, for the benefit of a few individuals.

The curious case of Rockingham House, a government rest house in Nathiagali, seems to be a pertinent example of this unfortunate trend. Last May, an apex committee, which included the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa chief minister, decided to hand over 15 rest houses to the provincial tourism department to be rented out to the public.

All but one — the Nathiagali facility — were handed over and as reported in Thursday’s paper, the rest houses earned a decent amount for the exchequer. The problem with the Nathiagali structure is that the KP police hierarchy is reluctant to relinquish it; they claim it is a ‘police facility’ housing offices, residential quarters etc, and that a police presence is essential in the ‘sensitive’ area.

It is the norm for the police to be called in to evict encroachers and land grabbers; and it is most unusual to see the force itself resist official demands to vacate a property. It is unacceptable for the KP police to resist a decision made by the elected government.

Yet this is not the only instance where state institutions have taken over real estate meant for public welfare or that is of historical value.

For example, in Karachi last year, the Sindh government declared the Mitharam Hostel — a historical structure — a sub-jail at the request of the paramilitary Rangers.

The Rangers also currently occupy other hostels in the metropolis. Without doubt, police, Rangers and other state institutions need physical infrastructure to work out of. But must they occupy buildings meant for public use?

There is no shortage of state land where the barracks, offices etc of these institutions can be housed. The KP government made the right decision to turn over the rest houses to the public. It must now enforce its writ fully and open the gates of the Nathiagali facility to common citizens.

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2016

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