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What matters most

Shah Meer Baloch

LATE last year, during a visit by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi to Gwadar, a group of locals blocked the road to the airport by staging a sit-in. Their demand? Water. Unlike much of the praise surrounding CPEC in the media, there remain some serious, unaddressed issues.

Since development began in Gwadar under Musharraf’s tenure, every government has attempted to settle and resettle the district’s land — depriving locals of their ancestral homes and allotting them to ruling lobbies. Although the law requires that the land should be allotted to locals before it is transferred by sale, thousands of acres have allegedly been directly allocated to non-locals such as to the brother of a former Balochistan chief minister.

Gwadar’s downtrodden residents have been subjected to strong-arm tactics by bureaucrats, politicians and the land mafia to give up a third of their land to them if they want the rest to be formally allotted. At times they have been duped; for example, a tehsildar and settlement officer gave one local resident the papers for 3,000 acres of his ancestral land. These were never filed in the official records. Even in government schemes, thousands of fake files have allegedly been sold and lands allotted to non-locals.

Chief Minister Quddus Bizenjo recently handed over the portfolios of Gwadar Development Authority and Balochistan Coastal Development Authority to an adviser-cum-minister from Karachi, stoking resentment among the disgruntled youth. According to Gwadar’s master plan, the Chinese would also get 20,000 acres. There are also allegations that thousands of acres have been allotted for establishing cantonments adjacent to the city. No one seems to care as to what the locals’ fate will be under such schemes. If anyone did, the master plan would be made public, the records put online, allotments to non-locals cancelled and it would be ensured that all investors have a local partner.

If not locals, who is Gwadar’s development intended for?

The water crisis is the second-most pressing issue in Gwadar. No city can be developed if it suffers from chronic water shortages. Gwadar currently requires six million gallons per day (MGD). It used to get 2.5MGD from Ankara Dam, which has now dried up. Water is now supplied from Mirani Dam through tankers costing Rs17,000 per trip. The billions spent on desalination plants have come to naught. In the absence of this basic resource, the people are suffering. In the second half of 2017, over 10 per cent of the population was affected by water-borne diseases.

Almost 80pc of locals depend on fishing, but those involved in the business are unable to make ends meet as trawlers from Sindh are wiping out fish stocks and damaging the provincial marine ecosystem. Trawling is illegal in Balochistan, but one local official claimed that bribes to both provinces’ fisheries departments, and senior bureaucrats, politicians and influentials — to the tune of Rs5 billion every month — allows this practice to go unchecked. According to another official, while China will provide employment to local fishermen, it will also trawl the waters to send fish back to China.

Whenever there is a big event at the port or local five-star hotel, locals are told not to go fishing until the event — to which neither local journalists nor local residents are invited — is over. When as a journalist and resident of Gwadar, I requested invitations to attend the Gwadar Expo, there was no official response. Who, then, is such development intended for?

To meet the energy needs of Gwadar, the Environmental Protection Agency issued an NOC to a Chinese company to establish a coal power plant of 300MW — a project of CPEC. Even if it uses the best technology available, the coal power plant would hardly be environment-friendly, and can have a hazardous impact. Gwadar is the west wind corridor; coal would be dumped on the berths in the port, so the emissions from the plant would not only inflict damage on life on land but also on life in the water. If the waste water that the coal project would generate is to be pumped into the sea, it would destroy marine life.

A public hearing prior to the approval of any coal power project is essential but, so far, the authorities have not consulted local residents. LNG, not coal, would be the best option for meeting Gwadar’s energy demands, and China, at home, is itself shifting away from coal and towards other sources for power production.

From Gwadar port’s revenue, 91pc will go to China and 9pc to the federal government. As always, Balochistan will only get a lifetime spent in backwardness. Is this development? It appears that Gwadar’s development plan may be designed to turn the majority Baloch into a minority population. If this is not the intention, then some Baloch youth ask why not pass a constitutional amendment to deny voting rights to newcomers in Gwadar for at least 100 years? The fear that they are to be marginalised on their own land haunts the Baloch.

The writer is a freelance journalist and researcher.

Published in Dawn, May 6th, 2018

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