This post is republished under a content sharing agreement with Balochistan Point, an independent online newspaper based in Quetta, Pakistan.
Dr. Malik Baloch is the Chief Minister of Balochistan, Pakistan's largest, least populated and poorest province. Baloch's recent decision to move all bus stops in the city of Quetta to Hazar Gunji, a suburb about 30 kilometers (almost 20 miles) away, has enraged many people and prompted drivers to boycott public transit.
The drivers’ strike has caused significance inconvenience to the commuters of the province's capital and economic hub Quetta, especially those living in the Sariab area of the city.
Murad Ahmad is a 40-year-old low-level state employee who lives in Kalat. He travels to Quetta once a week for different reasons. “Life would be very difficult for me, if public transport coming from Kalat drops me at Hazar Gunji rather than Musa colony on Sariab road,” Ahmad says. He has many strong words for the Balochistan government and its apparent apathy toward the suffering of ordinary people.
On April 23, Chief Minister Baloch chaired a public meeting with the drivers’ union representatives. Baloch refused to compromise and ordered drivers to end their strike and return to work, reiterating that the city's bus stands are being moved to Hazar Gunji, despite the protests.
The unions, led by Abdul Qadir Raisani, rejected Baloch's demands, vowing to continue their strike, which they say is also an effort to protect passengers’ rights.
Raisani says Hazar Gunji is too far from Quetta, forcing passengers to pay an additional fare to reach the center of city. He also claimed that Hazar Gunji lacks the basic infrastructure that is necessary for commuters to transfer between buses.
Raisani and other union leaders have also accused several government ministers of buying large chunks of real estate near Hazar Gunji. Relocating bus stop to the area, critics say, is how these officials hope to drive up the value of this land. On condition of anonymity, two sources with knowledge of the situation have confirmed to The Balochistan Point that the real estate allegations are accurate.
Balochistan's government denies these claims, saying the decision to move the bus stops is based on the government's estimation of Quetta's best interests as a city. Officials refuse to elaborate, however, on what they mean by “best interests.”
“I pay Rs. 300 fare to reach Quetta from Dhadar district normally, if bus stands are shifted to Hazar Gunji then I would have to pay an additional Rs. 250 to reach Quetta city,” says Karim Baksh, a frequent bus passenger, who questions how higher fares could be in his best interests.
Abdul Karim Nosherwani, a member of the provincial assembly and provincial general secretary of PML-Q, also disagrees with the government's position. “Shifting bus stands to Hazar Gunji is a great injustice with people of Balochistan,” Nosherwani argues. “If this unjust decision is not withdrawn then I will challenge it in Balochistan High Court,” he vowed.
PML-N's youth wing has demanded that the Balochistani government roll back its decision on bus stops. Sajjad Raisani, the group's leader, lamented the local authorities’ seeming indifference about the inconveniences their decisions are bringing on the public.
Other groups that have condemned Balochistan's new policy on bus stops include the Union of Traders and Shopkeepers, the All Balochistan Traders Union, and Aziz Ahmed Shahwani, a member of District Council Quetta.
“The way Dr. Malik Baloch is defending the decision to move bus stops to Hazar Gunji proves that he only cares about protecting his government,” said Mohammad Ali, a bus driver. “We have the right to ask whether Dr. Malik is our Chief Minster or our enemy number one.”