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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday called the Auditor General of Pakistan as well as the finance secretary to apprise it of the utilisation of about $6 billion financial assistance extended by the international community for rehabilitation of the survivors of the 2005 earthquake.

The directives were issued during the hearing of a suo motu notice taken on an application of Shahzad Mehmood Qureshi of Mansehra inviting the court’s attention to alleged embezzlement of funds by the Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA).

In his application, Mr Qureshi alleged that despite the passage of 13 years, the people of Balakot were still living in makeshift arrangements without availability of water while their children were studying in schools without any roof.

He also alleged that the government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa had failed to provide encumbrance free lands to the ERRA for initiating development schemes, adding that no new government schools, hospitals or colleges had been developed by the authority.

Meanwhile, a report of the Mansehra district and sessions judge, who was appointed by the apex court at the last hearing to visit the area and submit his findings, conceded that the overall state of affairs of New Balakot City, which had to be established after old Balakot city was completely destroyed in the earthquake, presented a fiasco of coordination between the ERRA, district administration and police.

Similarly, there has been failure of proper utilisation of the resources and at the very basis the master plan of the new city appeared to be defective.

After consultation with the stakeholders that include representatives of the old Balakot town, the officials concerned, local bar representatives, the report suggested immediate launching of infrastructure development schemes such as electricity, gas, water sanitation, sewerage and education to make the area livable.

The district administration should also proactively contribute to the executing department — ERRA — and coordinate the settlement of residents of the old Balakot town, the report said, adding that Bakrial City should be given the status of municipality and the system of maintaining basic facility and civic amenities should be regulated and the system of maintaining basic facility and civic amenities should be regulated through the municipality setup.

The report called upon the ERRA headquarters and the government to keep up to the commitment made to the earthquake-affected people of Balakot by allocating funds on a priority basis. The ERRA should also be asked to execute schemes within the shortest possible time.

All that is required, the report regretted, was the show of will mainly on part of the ERRA and the local administration to settle the people of old Balakot town before God forbid another catastrophe was unleashed on them.

The key to coordination is the constitution of an apex court consisting of all stakeholders with a specifically assigned role, the report suggested, accepting that the 2005 earthquake had caused such magnitude of loss that had no parallel in the history of Pakistan.

It is an undisputed fact that neither the local population nor the relief of rehabilitation machinery had the optimum capacity to live up to the challenge.

Prior to the 2005 earthquake, no dedicated agency was ever set up to conduct the relief operations, the report said, adding that in the past whenever disaster struck, the army had a lead role in such operations.

It was the first time that the government realised the need to establish a dedicated agency (ERRA) for the purpose and it was also the first time that this agency was conducting such mammoth operations, the report said.

Published in Dawn, April 24th, 2018