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New districts

October 23, 2018

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The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.
The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

THE de-notification of Lehri’s district status and inclusion of Rakhshan as a new administrative division in Balochistan, along with the notification of Kolai Pallas Kohistan as another district in KP, have intensified the debate on revising the criteria for creating new administrative districts.

Administratively, districts are created when the population of a district becomes too challenging to administer and provide civic amenities to. But in recent decades, it seems as if there are no standardised criteria for creating new units — neither demographic strength and revenue generation nor public convenience and manageability.

Although technology, road networks and mobility are improved, these developments have not necessarily improved public service delivery. For instance, Quetta extends over 3,501 square kilometres, with a population of one million, and is divided into three tehsils; Karachi with 21m people, spread over 3780 sq km, is divided into 31 tehsils. In Peshawar, there is only one tehsil for a population of 1.97m over 1,257 sq km. Lahore, spread over 1,772 sq km and inhabited by 11m, is divided into five tehsils. On what grounds are new divisions and districts really created?

Pakistan is divided into four provinces and 132 districts. KP is divided into seven divisions and 34 districts; Balochistan into seven divisions and 33 districts; Punjab into nine divisions and 36 districts; and Sindh into seven divisions and 29 districts. Balochistan constitutes 44 per cent of Pakistan’s total area but its population density is low.

The creation of districts must be protected.

During the British Raj, Chagai, Quetta, Loralai, Sibi and Zhob were established cantonment districts, mainly created on a strategic basis. After Independence, districts were primarily established on political, ethnic and tribal lines. Since 1983, Balochistan has created 18 new districts, increasing administrative expenses. The hasty creation of districts benefited local politicians and government functionaries, but not the common folk. A few districts were created for the purpose of strengthening the political clout of powerful families. More districts lead to more government jobs, but there is no systemic apparatus to assess the service delivery at police stations, lower courts, hospitals and schools.

KP comprises 34 districts, 16 of which were notified after the 1980s. After the 25th Amendment, Fata’s seven agencies have been notified as districts and incorporated in five administrative divisions of KP. Though it increased the number of districts, area and population of divisions, the improvement of public service delivery requires allocation of more resources, effective management and synchronisation of the criminal justice system and law enforcement.

While inclusion of Mohmand and Khyber in Peshawar increased the number of districts, without synchronisation of the administrative and law-enforcement apparatus, Mohmand and Khyber may badly affect the peace indexation of Peshawar and Charsadda. The changed administrative dynamics in KP also increased the number of districts in Malakand division to eight. The Local Government Ordinance 2001 notified Malakand agency as a district and 24 departments were devolved, but without a police department. Can a district government without modern police function well?

Apart from former Malakand Agency, Bajaur has also been made part of Malakand division. Inclusion of Bajaur district increased the total area of Malakand division to 31,161 sq km, which constitutes 31pc of the total area of KP, while Chitral measuring over 14,850 sq km needs to be divided into two districts. Adminis­trative convenience warrants the creation of a new division named Lawari, comprising Lower Dir, Upper Dir, Bajaur and Chitral and the rest of Malakand division, to make things more manageable.

To avoid political discretion, the creation of administrative districts must be protected through a parliamentary act which should mandate a commission to assess revenue potential, financial implications of upgrading existing facilities, employment opportunities, public facilitation, infrastructural development, rescue response and crime management.

Within a timeline defined in the law, the commission could submit a report to the provincial assembly and, after deliberations, the creation of new districts can be supported by a simple majority vote. While making new districts, certain areas are included or excluded; hence such notifications are either politically resisted or contested in court. To avoid litigation, it is imperative that prior to the creation of new units, the proposed commission should consult the community.

If the former agencies, now included in the divisions, are not brought at par with the rest of KP, it may transform the province into another Balochistan administratively. They could become a replication of Balochistan’s A and B areas.

The writer is the author of Pakistan: In Between Extremism and Peace.

Twitter: @alibabakhel

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2018

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