Shehbaz Sharif can buy himself a helicopter, but it’s too costly to provide adequate medical facilities in Punjab?

Published: July 25, 2017

Pakistani burn victims are treated at a hospital in Bahawalpur on June 25, 2017, after oil tanker after caught fire following an accident on a highway near the town of Ahmedpur East, some 670 kilometres (416 miles) from Islamabad. PHOTO: AFP

The aftermath of the Bahawalpur tragedy is a harrowing tale of gross incompetence and disregard for human life. Before this, little emphasis has been placed on how the massive loss of life could have been avoided.

For instance, Army helicopters had to be called in for transporting the burn victims to the hospital since the rescue services didn’t own one. But here’s a little fact – just three months ago, a Rs2.25 billion Russian helicopter was bought by Shehbaz Sharif for personal use. The question that should be asked here is, whether it was bought with public funds that could have been utilised elsewhere.

Numerous lives could have been saved and the death toll reduced if a decent medical facility with a burn unit existed nearby. Despite the urgent need for better medical facilities, the Sharifs have diverted a large chunk of funds, originally allocated for South Punjab, to infrastructure projects in urban areas.

Thanks to this erroneous policy, the nearest Victoria hospital only had 30 beds in its ICU section and seven of their machines were out of order. The injured had to be airlifted to Multan as there was no burn unit present either.

At present, only 209 beds are available for burn patients at four major state-run hospitals in Punjab. After all this, Shehbaz had the audacity to say that the last 70 years of corruption was one of the chief causes of the Bahawalpur tragedy. He conveniently forgot that out of the last 70 years, at least 30 years can be attributed to his family’s rule over Punjab.

To add further insult to the injury, Rana Sanaullah, a senior Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) leader from Punjab, brazenly stated that it’s not possible to make a burn centre in every hospital in Punjab. He was apparently hinting towards lack of funds as the cause of deficient burn centres.

The question is, then, how does the government have Rs300 billion for the unrequired Metro bus project, Rs70 million of public funds to build a bomb proof wall along the Jaati Umra agriculture state, and enough money to buy extremely expensive Russian helicopters for personal use, but no money for burn units?

Moreover, the cheques handed out as compensation had allegedly bounced as well. This was denied by the officials, but we can never know with this government.

What’s worse is that a meagre amount of Rs10 million was imposed on Shell by the Oil and Gas Regulatory Authority (OGRA). Shell even refused to accept responsibility for the incident, shifting the blame on the victims’ lack of awareness and the Motorway Police’s delayed response.

A pattern of indifference can be detected where everyone seems to be shrugging off their responsibility and blaming the other party instead. Most people went as far to place the entire blame on the deceased victims, terming them as greedy. What a shame. It must be convenient to blame individuals who can’t speak for themselves anymore.

A long history of the Sharif brothers’ oppression in South Punjab has led to disastrous incidents. In Lodhran, Shehbaz had committed fraud by being dishonest about the kissan (farmer) package which was rejected by the farmers union since it was a mere ploy to win the local elections.

When these farmers protested, they were viciously beaten by police thugs upon the Sharifs’ directives. Furthermore, a few months ago in Layyah, a South Punjab district, 30 people died due to the absence of a stomach cleaning machine.

Some would wonder whether placing the entire onus on the existing government is justified. I would say it is because currently, they are in charge and it is their duty to uphold and establish facilities for the betterment of their citizens, something which they haven’t been able to do so far.

But why would the Sharif brothers, who themselves rush to London for medical check-ups, be concerned about the welfare of their citizens?

If our leaders remain apathetic, we can expect more deaths if an incident like Bahawalpur occurs again. It’s all about priorities. And let’s not forget that the issue is not just about the incident itself; it is about what happened afterwards in the absence of basic facilities, a delayed response and a lack of security officials at the site.

The least this government can do is learn a lesson from this ill-fated incident and rectify the aforementioned issues to pay homage to the victims of the Bahalwapur inferno.

Ahsan Zafeer

Ahsan Zafeer

The author is interested in politics, social issues and sports. He has a passion for writing and believes that issues can be resolved through discussion. He tweets as @AhsanZafeer (twitter.com/AhsanZafeer)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • tak

    very well written article. but these politicians are least bothered by what public thinks. the way we are going we deserve such leaders. we let them treat us this way rather i feel public have lost their morals as wellRecommend

  • Asghar Moosa Lulat

    interested only only on commission and kick backs and not for benefits to public who vote themRecommend

  • Karachiite

    Previous helicopter which was in use of CM punjab and crashed in Afghanistan while being taken to Russia for overhauling had been used many times in flood relief operations and other emergencies.Recommend

  • ishrat salim

    Not Punjab but talk of Lahore, the only city where 58% of total Punjab budget is spent, is this justified ? Yes, SS works hard but he & his team should prioritize health, education, human development, water & sewerage, energy & employment as their main priorities. 2 wrong can not be justified to ignore provision for the welfare of the people of the province of Punjab on equal basis. PML N govt was in charge of the Punjab province for 30 years & Gen Musharraf 9 years – remember.Recommend

  • Parvez

    The reason is simple …… if the CM or any senior politician or bureaucrat get even a twinge in the knee, they are off to Dubai, Europe, UK or America AT THE PEOPLES EXPENSE to get attention from their doctors…… thus the people can suffer.
    When the Turkish leader was told that he needed a heart operation and should go abroad for it, his response was ….if I did that what will my people think. But then you have leaders….. and then you have our leaders.Recommend

  • maya

    Your sarcasm here is so out of place. There is a time and place for everything.
    Don’t piggyback on a tragic event to pass unnecessary snide comments. Hate is very unattractive.Recommend