‘Restore education quota or we will continue sit-in in front of Governor House’

The main entrance to the Punjab Governor’s House on the Mall Road offers a glimpse of normalcy only for the security personnel there after the gossip and exhaustion from duty. For the past week, students from the former Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) who had been studying at various government universities in Punjab on scholarships and special academic seats have been sitting in a sit-in in front of the gate.

Sitting in the shade of dense trees outside the Governor’s House, the students try to keep their bodies warm by taking a blanket or two at night when they feel cold due to the changing weather, as well as expressing their determination. They seem to be able to withstand the harsh winter, but they will not back down from their demands. These students are of the view that the Punjab government has reduced the number of seats and quotas allotted to them several times in the last one year due to which hundreds of students are being deprived of higher education.

This reduction is in violation of the March 2, 2017 decision of the Federal Cabinet in view of the 2016 report of the FATA Reform Committee, which stated that ‘a quota of ten years for FATA students in education and health institutions. It will be increased 100% every year after the integration of FATA into Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

According to students from FATA, even after this decision, quotas were not allocated in many universities of Punjab. The number of seats allocated in some universities was also disproportionate. For example, a big university like Punjab University had only five seats for FATA students while Bahauddin Zakaria University announced 200 seats for them.

Students protesting in front of Governor House Lahore say they will not return until the Punjab Chief Minister issues a notification for scholarships for FATA students and restoration of reserved seats in the province’s universities. 

In order to remove such ambiguity, the Senate Standing Committee on February 23, 2018, in the light of the recommendations of the FATA Reforms Committee, said, “In view of the decision of the Federal Cabinet dated March 2, 2017, the Higher Education Commission Allocate seats for these students with a 100% increase and at least four seats should be reserved for these students in each department of the university.

Among those students is Shoaib-ur-Rehman, from Wana in South Waziristan, who is studying at Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan. His father is a driver and he can barely drive home. Talking about the situation in the former FATA and especially Waziristan, he said, “Recently, there have been two major military operations in our region which have completely destroyed our businesses and jobs. As a result of these operations, many students have been killed.” They are deprived of getting education and only because of these scholarships some students were able to benefit from higher education. “There is not a single university in the whole of FATA, which is why I entered the agriculture department in 2017 at the Bahauddin Zakaria University in Multan on the seats allotted for the former FATA,” he said.

Shoaib-ur-Rehman also says that “we are not satisfied with the press conference held by the Governor of Punjab Chaudhry Muhammad Sarwar.” Scholarships have been announced. “Until the Chief Minister of Punjab issues a notification of these scholarships and allotted seats, we will not leave this spot.”

Some Baloch students marching from Multan to restore quotas and scholarships in Punjab universities say no practical steps have been taken by the Punjab governor to get their demands approved.

The Baloch students of Bahauddin Zakaria University, Multan, arrived in Lahore two days ago with the demands of scholarships and reserved seats, just like the former FATA students.

When the students entered Lahore, they were determined to march till their demands were approved, but as they reached Cheering Cross Chowk in front of the Punjab Assembly, their bodies were clearly tired. Yesterday, some representatives of these students met the Governor of Punjab after which the Governor of Punjab announced that he would work with the Punjab Government and Punjab philanthropists for the education of Baloch students and South Punjab studying in various government universities of Punjab. We are launching scholarships and special seats, the number of which will increase every year.

Baloch students marching on foot set up a protest camp at Cheering Cross in which Maryam Nawaz also participated.

After the press conference of the Governor of Punjab, the Baloch students announced the end of their sit-in at Cheering Cross, although some of them still say that the press conference of the Governor of Punjab is meaningless as long as the government of Punjab Or no formal notification is issued by the Punjab Chief Minister in this regard.

A Baloch student at Bahauddin Zakaria University said, “After the march of Baloch students on foot, our problem is slowly coming to the fore in the media and that is why Maryam Nawaz She is from a traditional political party and was forced to join our sit-in at Cheering Cross. In view of all these incidents, the Governor of Punjab held an emergency press conference with the sole purpose of ending our sit-in and removing the resulting pressure on the government.

Under the previous government, scholarships and quotas were allocated for FATA students in Punjab universities