MITHI: Prominent economist Dr Kaiser Bengali has cautioned Tharis to be ready for major changes in their lifestyle in the wake of launch of mega projects in Thar coalfield and said time is ripe for Tharis to stand up and exert pressure on the government to provide them basic facilities at their doorsteps.

Thar was going to be a game changer in boosting the economy of the province and the entire country, therefore, Tharis should keep themselves abreast of the fast-changing circumstances, he said.

Dr Bengali was speaking at a workshop titled ‘Tharparkar transformation and opportunities’ organised by the Skill Enhancing and Research Home of the Children (SEARCH) organisation here late on Thursday night.

He was of the opinion that Thar was passing through a critical phase and those who were interested in getting benefits from this transformation would have to lose many things in return.

However, with careful planning by the government, mining firms and locals, the coal projects would bring about a positive revolution in people’s lives, he said.

But Tharis could never be able to reap full benefits of all this development if they were not imparted both technical and non-technical education. Regrettably, literacy rate in the desert, especially among girls, was dismal, he said.

He urged the Sindh government to focus on education by opening model schools at least at union council level and put in place an effective monitoring system to ensure provision of quality education.

He asked the participants of the workshop to sit with officials of the mining firms engaged in the extraction of coal and urge them to make environment- and people-friendly policies so that the entire Thar was not affected in the name of development.

Dr Bengali appealed to lawmakers as well as representatives of local government to play their role and lead people of the backward area from the front to create awareness about the future of the desert region.

He said it would be next to impossible to bring about a meaningful change in the area until and unless political leaders and activists of the ruling party took upon themselves the responsibility to pave the ground for this major transformation.

Dr Allah Nawaz Samoon, chief executive officer of Thardeep Rural Development Programme, demanded the government should work at the grassroots level and engage locals instead of focusing only on towns. Education was the key if the government was committed to bring changes in the lives of Tharis, he said.

He said that under the obtaining conditions all social activists and members of civil society should engage with communities of their respective areas to make them realise the significance of the transformation process taking place in their midst.

Partab Shivani, social activist, deplored that the government was least interested in making even slight changes in the region. “One could gauge the government’s approach from the fact that during last financial year a huge amount of Rs1,500 million meant for education system of the district was allowed to lapse,” he said.

He said that education system in the district had already collapsed and things were in a shambles due to criminal negligence of the functionaries concerned.

Pakistan Peoples Party leader Shusheel Malani said that Sindh government was paying special attention to health and education in the area.

However, the process to overhaul the rotten system would surely take some time, he said and expressed the hope the situation would get better soon.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2017