By Nasir Iqbal | Nisar Ahmad Khan
ISLAMABAD/ MANSEHRA: The Supreme Court was told on Wednesday that the 1,640 projects planned for the rehabilitation of the survivors of the 2005 earthquake could not be completed due to a shortage of funds.
Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar, who had taken suo motu notice on an application submitted by a social activist Sheeraz Mehmood Qureshi — concerning alleged embezzlement of $5 billion assistance provided by international donors for the rehabilitation of earthquake survivors — visited the new Balakot city housing project. The scheme is being developed for the resettlement of families that had survived the deadly earthquake.
The earthquake recorded 7.6 on the Richter scale had hit Kashmir on either side of the border in October 2005. Most of the damage however was felt in the north of Pakistan. Balakot was among the towns hit the hardest, as it was only10 kilometres from the epicentre. The deadly disaster caused more than 80,000 deaths.
CJP visits new Balakot city housing project
In his application, Mr Qureshi had alleged that 13 years after the earthquake, the people of Balakot were still living in makeshift housing, and did not have access to basic facilities such as water, health and schools for their children.
Mr Qureshi had also accused that Rs55 billion was transferred to the Benazir Income Support Programme out of Earthquake Reconstruction and Rehabilitation Authority (ERRA) funds, and Rs185 billion was transferred to other government accounts.
During the proceedings, the court was told that the ERRA had received Rs290 billion from the government, which included Rs100 billion from international donors to help in the rehabilitation programmes. With all the money available, the ERRA is still short of Rs 37 billion needed to complete the remaining projects.
Instead of spending money on reconstruction projects, Rs15.36 billion has been spent on administrative affairs since the inception of the ERRA.
Earlier a report submitted by the Mansehra district and sessions judge who had been appointed by the apex court to visit the area also confirmed that the state of affairs of the new Balakot City — a housing project which was designed to replace old Balakot city that was destroyed in the earthquake — was indicative of a breakdown of coordination between the ERRA, the district administration and the police.
The report also suggested that resources were not effectively utilised, and the master plan for the new city appeared to be flawed as well.
The district judge also recommended that the district administration pro-actively assist the ERRA and coordinate the resettlement of residents of the old Balakot town. He added that Bakrial, where the new city was going to be developed, should be given the status of a municipality. The system of maintaining basic facilities and civic amenities must be regulated through the municipality set up.
The report advised that the ERRA and the government keep the commitments they made to the victims of the earthquake by immediately allocating additional funds to make up for any deficit. The ERRA must also be bound to execute schemes as efficiently and quickly as possible.
The CJP on the request of the applicant decided to visit the civil hospital in Balakot, the King Abdullah Teaching Hospital and the district bar association.
The chief justice praised a Supreme Court judge hailing from Mansehra, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, and said he was the motivational force behind the visit. He said Justice Khan believed that justice was not being done with the quake survivors.
“The survivors of the earthquake here do not have basic rights, such as health and education. This is not acceptable and I am here to fix it,” the CJP told lawyers during a visit to the district bar on an invitation of the president of the bar association, Basharat Ali Swati. CJP Nisar announced he would take notice and step in whenever fundamental human rights were being violated.
The CJP comforted an elderly man who got teary-eyed as he explained the agony the people were in. “I will hold those who have wronged you responsible, and the reason I am here is to bring everyone guilty to justice,” said the chief justice.
The survivors applauded CJP Nisar for his actions. During his visit to the King Abdullah Teaching Hospital, a resident of the area, Mohammed Arif, complained to the CJP that the 500-bed hospital had been reduced to a meagre 285-bed facility due to the alleged corruption by ERRA.
The district and sessions judge, Mohammad Zeb Khan, along with Sheeraz Mehmood Qureshi who had initiated the request for court intervention also accompanied the CJP.
Published in Dawn, April 26th, 2018
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