Forty-eight-year-old Akhtar Masih lives in Rawalpindi. He suffers from a leg ailment but works in 'bykea' with a three-wheeled motorcycle in his spare time. From here, he earns five to seven hundred rupees per day.
Akhtar Masih was a sanitary worker at the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) for 25 years. He has worked in departmental motels in Swat Malam Jabba, Gilgit, Hunza, Chitral, and Naran during this time.
He explains that PTDC suddenly laid off hundreds of employees one day and shut down all operations, including motels. Including him, 272 permanent employees of the department were also discharged. These motels have not been open to tourists for three and a half years.
PTDC was established in 1970 under the Federal Development Programme to promote tourism in Pakistan. However, this institution could not provide tourist facilities for years except for information.
In 1976, the Federal Government handed over the historical luxury 'Flashman's Hotel' of Rawalpindi to PTDC. Two more organisations – Motels (North) Limited and Pakistan Towers Limited – were added a year later. Both companies were formed under the Companies Act 1913 and are owned by the Pakistani government.
PTDC continued to operate 35 motels and four restaurants across the country under Motels (North) Limited, while Pakistan Tours organised events and tours. It also managed the Lahore-Delhi bus service from 1991 to August 2019.
After the 18th constitutional amendment, 19 motels of PTDC located in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Punjab, and Balochistan were handed over to the provincial governments. However, the provincial governments refused to hire employees. Thus, these motels also remained inactive due to unresolved conflict between the federation and the provinces.
Meanwhile, the PTI federal government decided that all PTDC motels and restaurants should be handed to the private sector. The government said that all of them are running at a loss, so the burden on the budget is increasing.
The management of PTDC consists of a Board of Directors consisting of a maximum of 22 persons and a Managing Director as Chief Executive. The minister-in-charge is the chairman, and the secretary-in-charge works as the Vice-Chairman.
PTDC issued three notifications on July 1, 2020, in a single day, under which Motels (North) Limited, Pakistan Towers Limited, and Flashman’s Hotel were closed. The operations of the three institutions were suspended, and the employees were dismissed.
In the notifications, this move was stated to be the financial loss of the years and the loss caused by the COVID-19 epidemic.
The next day, through a circular titled 'Restructuring of PTDC', 50 per cent of the headquarters employees were also laid off in the name of right-sizing. According to this circular, the federal cabinet's decision was the basis of this initiative.
Thus, 272 permanent employees and officers of PTDC, as well as more than 1000 daily workers, were dismissed from their jobs in two days.
Unemployed employees are still going around the courts. They neither got their arrears nor could their jobs be restored.
When the employees started protesting, the government offered four salaries to the officers and five salaries to the workers, but the victims termed it 'inadequate' and went to court.
Jawad Ali, who joined PTDC thirty-two years ago as an accountant, has worked in various motels. He was a manager-in-charge at PTDC Gilgit when he was sacked along with 22 colleagues.
Jawad Ali calls PTDC's losses a 'white lie'. However, PTDC data is not available to confirm or deny his claim.
He illustrates that before the motel was closed in Corona, he had given a net profit of two crore 65 lakh rupees to PTDC. These motels were not built for profit but to promote tourism.
He says the government has rewarded him with a WhatsApp termination letter for his 30 years of service. Apart from the golden handshake, the government didn’t even pay the arrears. Due to this, the condition of women and Christian employees working with them is pathetic.
Ali Asghar, a resident of Mansehra, was the manager of PTDC Naran in his last days. He is now the chairman of the retrenched employees' committee and the plaintiff in the Supreme Court case.
He says over a thousand daily wage waiters working in PTDC have become unemployed.
He says that it was first in the High Court, and now the case is going on in the Supreme Court. Discussions with the government also continued, but no decision has yet been made.
"The Pakistan Democratic Movement (PDM) government formed a committee under the chairmanship of Member of the National Assembly of Pakistan (MNA) Abdul Qadir Mandokhail as soon as it came. It had issued orders to the PTDC management to remove the employee's concerns and give them a financial package."
According to Ali Asghar, on December 13, 2022, in the meeting of the Board of Directors of PTDC, the financial package was directed to be given to the employees, the amount of which is approximately Rs66 crores and 70 lakhs. Upon payment of this amount, the employees would take back the cases, and the motels would be leased out, but this did not happen.
For three and a half years, the hotels and motels of PTDC worth billions have been lying idle, resulting in the loss of tourism. The government has issued tenders for leasing them at different times but seems unable to make a final decision.
Waqar Ahmed is a resident of Lahore and a tourism enthusiast. He has also travelled to the northern regions with Mustansar Hussain Tarar, the author of many travelogues.
He says that staying at PTDC motels has been his priority. Their unique architecture and the historical and cultural information available here attract tourists.
“Most government hotels and motels are located in beautiful locations, like PTDC Bisham on the bank of Abasin (Pashto name of Indus River), where the beautiful scenery and noise of the river in the evening are a different pleasure. Domestic and foreign tourists are used to spending the night here and leaving for their new destination in the morning. "
He says that he spoke to Mustansar Hussain Tarar about the closure of motels.
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"He said that I was a member of the board of directors and had opposed their decision of closure many times in the meeting because PTDC motels and hotels have the status of museums for me. Just take the K2 Motel, which climbers around the world fondly remember. Here, they have left signs and signatures. Therefore, leasing or closing them is a grave mistake that will cause damage to tourism."
Mukhtar Ahmed, information manager at PTDC's head office in Islamabad, says he is not allowed to discuss the issue. Lok Sujag tried to visit the MD's office twice, but the officials said, "He is not in the office."
Abdul Muneem, the former Provincial Minister of Tourism of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, says that after the 18th Amendment, hotels came to the provinces, but the federal government did not provide funds, while bureaucrats, ministers, and advisers used to stay in motels for free.
"The situation was that in Corona, PTDC did not even have money for the employees' salaries. We tried to lease the hotels to avoid further damage, but the federal government closed them without making any policy."
Published on 2 Dec 2023