Writer and Photographer: Aun Ali Jafri
For me, it has proved to be a Godsend opportunity. There is only a primary school in my village. Had the road not been constructed and the bridge built for the solar power park I would have been robbed of the opportunity to do my studies in a better environment in the nearby town [Bahawalpur]. There does exist a high school for boys in a village across the canal. Science teachers seldom come to join their duties there. Sometimes, the mathematics teacher is missing and, at other times, the teacher of biology. Elders of the village quote the headmaster as saying that the education department is failing to fill the vacancies of teachers at the school.
Soon after the completion of the Bahawalpur-Solar Park link road and the bridge on the Bahawal Canal, buses and motorcycle-rickshaws [tuk tuk] began driving on it. The conveyance problem of me, other boys like me and many more people stood resolved. Thanks to the new road after passing my middle standard [eighth grade] exams from the high school in Chak 6-BC across the canal, I got admission directly in a city school, where a better learning culture is available and there is no dearth of teachers there. Earlier, some motorcycle-rickshaws did take long routes. Being katcha [mud, unpaved] roads, the clouds of dust would make your uniform dirty and people would catch dust allergies.
Some people, including my parents, say that the solar park did improve communications in this backward area, which was hitherto almost cut off from the world around it. The government built some link roads for the surrounding villages after constructing the main road. Power connections were provided to us from the transmission line commissioned for transferring the electricity generated at the solar park to other areas. This electricity provided much relief in summers to many of us, particularly the students who can now read till late in the evening without straining their eyes in the dim light of lanterns. The family heads complain of increase in expenses like paying electricity bills, like the transport costs as many boys, and of course, in some cases girls, are pushing their parents to send them to city schools. They are already cash-starved, mostly depending on the crop yields from their water-shortage-stricken small landholdings.
I believe their grievances may have been resolved had the unemployed ones of them been provided jobs at the project and [in the] related activities. There came a temporary phase of employment when the plant was under construction. The area people were hired as masons and for menial work then. Soon the construction work was over, they were all rendered jobless at once. None from my village has been employed, even as security guard, the only positions being offered to the locals after completion of the project.
Teachers at the school would inform us about the benefits or positive things of solar energy. It’s being pollution free, renewing or converting one form of energy into another thus adding no new emissions or harmful things to the environment. In my opinion the solar project has created a balance of advantages and disadvantages in the area. They say if there are 10 benefits of one thing then there will be two negative aspects of it. There come thorns with every rose.
The best thing I love about China is that they are able to manufacture one thing of differing qualities. They will give you the quality you ask and will pay for. This enabled many of us to purchase low-cost cell phones otherwise not possible had they been imported from western countries. I also hear about the Chinese completing various projects in record times. This solar park has also been installed in a record 90 days, my parents and senior students say. You see, I was quite young when the project was under construction.
I think the local government is to be blamed for the negatives, if there are any, in the project. The Chinese are strangers here. They cannot know local issues and problems. How could they when they would never visit the area or the nearby villages. My teachers say that our government had identified the projects to be built under the CPEC [China-Pakistan Economic Corridor]. Chinese were only to invest and complete the projects thus identified. Our government should have made it mandatory, in the project documents, that the locals would be preferred in giving jobs. We see that people from other areas of the country are being hired for various technical and not so-technical jobs at the solar park. While the local youths, even though many of them have done BSc engineering, are being ignored.