The incumbent PML-N government has been criticized for its flawed development and spending priorities. It prefers metro buses and orange lines over projects which are meant for social welfare. PML-N has also been blamed for prioritizing Punjab over rest of the provinces in the country. Discontinuing the Prime Minister Scholarship program for school students of Balochistan is yet another instance which gives weight to the aforementioned allegations level against PML-N government.
Prime Minister scholarship program was a very effective program initiated by the erstwhile Prime of Pakistan, Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani in year 2010-11. Under this program students studying in class 7th and 8th were selected after a testing process and then given admission in top schools of the country where their studies were financed till intermediate.
The pre-conditions for taking part in this program included that students must be studying in a government school and he or she must not be older than 14 years of age. 4 male students and 1 female student were selected for the Prime Minister Scholarship program from every district of Balochistan. There were more than 20 schools on the panel of this program. These include prestigious educational institutes such as Baqahi Cadet College, Steel Mills Cadet College, Sadiq Public School Bahawalpur, Army Burnhall College Abbotabad, Chandbagh School Mureedke and so on.
In Balochistan, the Director of Quality Education was responsible for dealing with the affairs of this program. Deputy Commissioners (DC) in the districts were coordinators for the program at district level. DCs used to conduct tests and interviews and forwarded the names of the selected students to the provincial quality education directorate.
Every year the applications for the Prime Minister Scholarship program were invited in the month of February. Test and interviews used to be conducted in the month of March and the students’ names were finalized till April. This year the applications for this program have not been advertised so far. This gives an indication that something is wrong with this project and its future continuation prospects.
According to sources in district administration of certain districts of Balochistan, this program has been closed down by the federal government. Same sources claim that this program was initially planned in a way that the last batch will be the one which will graduate in 2020. Students selected last year are the ones who would graduate in 2020. Hence, this program has been temporarily shut down by the PML-N government.
No official announcement has been made by either federal government or provincial government to end this program. District administration sources that have provided information to this scribe are also uncertain about the fate of this program. The provincial government is also clueless and does not know exactly what’s transpiring with regard to the fate of the Prime Minister Scholarship program. However it’s clear that no batch of students is going to be selected this year and it’s highly likely that PML-N government has made the decision to scrap this project and divert the funds to some other project which might involve construction work.
On the face of it, this program was yet another scholarship program and the discontinuation of such a program is not something extraordinary. However, in this case it’s certainly extraordinary and will have implications for the future generations of Balochistan which unfortunately neither provincial nor federal governments are able to fathom.
During the last five years, almost a thousand students from Balochistan benefited from this program. They managed to get the privilege of studying in the top colleges of the country and attain a certain standard of education which is unfathomable for students in Balochistan. These students, due to their superior education, have been able to secure admission in top universities of the country and some of them have also successfully acquired foreign study scholarships. As a result, this program alone has nurtured at least 1,000 people that can make a difference for their families and for Balochistan in general.
Balochistan is a deprived and backward province and this cliché is now widely acknowledged. There is also agreement on the point that Balochistan should get more than its share for the time being to make up the development gap that is has with other province. In such circumstances the need is to provide more effective scholarship opportunities for Balochistan and not deprive them of the existing ones.
Politicians and bureaucrats at the federal level who have made the decision of discontinuing Prime Minister Scholarship surely have no idea about ground realities of Balochistan. They also do not realize the importance of such program for the impoverished students of Balochistan. They made a decision with a strike of a pen and there is no one to hold them accountable or even question them on this anti-Balochistan approach.
The federal government should reverse its flawed decision of discontinuing this program and should allocate funds for the program from its available resources. This program will not cost more than tens of millions of rupees every year. PML-N government should be aware that programs like these can facilitate in bringing people of Balochistan in mainstream. At the same time, provincial government should argue for continuation of this program. If PML-N is adamant in containing this anti-Balochistan approach then provincial government should start its own approach on similar lines.