Karachi sans master plan

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

COLO­NIAL mas­ters cre­ated pow­er­ful al­lies by be­stow­ing upon them large tracts of lands in var­i­ous parts of the sub­con­ti­nent in ex­change for their un­con­di­tional loy­alty and ser­vices in times of peace and war. This elit­ist and un­just prac­tice was later con­tin­ued in Pak­istan with much zeal and gusto, mak­ing it vir­tu­ally a right for all those who had some in­flu­ence over or stake in state af­fairs, though it's moot if the state re­ceives loy­alty and ser­vice, in real terms, from the re­cip­i­ents of state lands.

His­tor­i­cally, the greater chunks of pre­cious lands have been awarded to pow­er­ful elites - politi­cians, civil and mil­i­tary bu­reau­crats, judges, jour­nal­ists, cap­i­tal­ists, feu­dals, de­vel­op­ers, etc - leav­ing lit­tle provision for the poor and land­less. No won­der, then, that one fifth of our pop­u­la­tion has no pro­pri­etary rights or shel­ter, de­spite the fact that it's these peo­ple who have been loy­ally ren­der­ing ser­vices in all eco­nomic spheres - agri­cul­ture, in­dus­try, con­struc­tion, trans­port, min­ing, fish­ing and so on. These land­less masses have been dis­en­ti­tled from public lands only be­cause they lack a po­lit­i­cal or­gan­i­sa­tion or leg­isla­tive rep­re­sen­ta­tion to as­sert their fun­da­men­tal rights against the in­ter­ests of well-en­trenched prop­er­tied classes and rent-seek­ers.

The most ap­palling ef­fects of this elit­ist land pol­icy are man­i­fest in Karachi, a metropo­lis whose lands have be­come an odi­ous ob­ject of ra­pa­cious scram­ble by cor­rupt politi­cians, cor­po­rate in­ter­ests, pow­er­ful in­sti­tu­tions, com­pro­mised ad­min­is­tra­tors, col­lu­sive reg­u­la­tors and politico-eth­nic mafias. In­deed, the city's plight presents a sym­bi­otic nexus be­tween the un­just en­rich­ment of these pow­er­ful ac­tors and the city's unchecked, un­planned and un­govern­able ex­pan­sion. It has be­come more ro­bust in the wake of the state au­thor­i­ties' half-done op­er­a­tion: re­triev­ing the city from a vi­o­lent melt­down, but leav­ing its fun­da­men­tal struc­tural, ad­min­is­tra­tive and reg­u­la­tory prob­lems un­fixed. The city con­tin­ues to suf­fer from many a malaise:

Master plan: Per­haps nowhere in the world is a city ex­pand­ing so quickly (hor­i­zon­tally, ver­ti­cally and de­mo­graph­i­cally) with­out a master plan. Karachi has none. The plan con­ceived dur­ing the Mushar­raf era and sanc­tioned by the Supreme Court never saw the light of day, mainly due to re­sis­tance by mul­ti­ple ju­ris­dic­tions, KMC, can­ton­ments, Lyari and Malir devel­op­ment au­thor­i­ties, the Board of Rev­enue, etc. Each had its own con­flict­ing land pol­icy and im­ple­men­ta­tion ma­chin­ery. None wished to fall un­der one over­ar­ch­ing author­ity to bring the dis­parate divi­sions into an or­derly whole. As a re­sult, ad­min­is­tra­tive chaos per­sists.

Great chunks of public land have been awarded to the elites, leav­ing lit­tle provision for the poor.

Reg­u­la­tion: Not­with­stand­ing Karachi's plethora of au­thor­i­ties and reg­u­la­tions, the city has been de­vel­oped less in ac­cor­dance with law and more in the in­ter­ests of pow­er­ful de­vel­op­ers. For in­stance, it is rou­tine to see zonal reg­u­la­tions be­ing ' soft­ened' to con­vert large swathes of res­i­den­tial ar­eas into com­mer­cial zones, dis­turb­ing and strain­ing al­ready scarce eco­log­i­cal re­sources. In fact, hang­ing the zon­ing reg­u­la­tions/area stan­dards has been the surest way of mak­ing bil­lions of ru­pees. The ben­e­fi­cia­ries are builders, politi­cians, bu­reau­crats and some­times even crim­i­nal fa­cil­i­ta­tors, but the cost of tam­per­ing with the phys­i­cal ca­pac­ity, zonal den­sity and ur­ban aes­thet­ics is paid heav­ily by the city - a 'liv­ing' or­gan­ism - when it loses its nat­u­ral habi­tat for breath­ing, liv­ing and grow­ing.

In­fra­struc­ture: Among Karachi's many woes is the con­tin­u­ous dis­ar­ray and dis­fig­ur­ing of its phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture. Un­der the nose of its mul­ti­tier ad­min­is­tra­tion - pro­vin­cial, lo­cal, can­ton­ment, reg­u­la­tory agen­cies, etc - pow­er­ful mafias con­tinue to en­croach upon lands meant for public ameni­ties: parks, grave­yards, schools, clin­ics, etc. Ap­pallingly, ad­di­tional storeys are il­le­gally added to build­ings con­structed on small plots in nar­row lanes and con­gested ar­eas. These frag­ile struc­tures not only im­peril their res­i­dents but also cre­ate ob­struc­tions for res­cue and mu­nic­i­pal op­er­a­tions.

In fact, sea­sonal ur­ban flood­ing, which plays havoc with roads and low­ly­ing ar­eas dur­ing the mon­soon, is largely caused by the il­le­gal en­croach­ment on the KMC nul­lahs. En­croach­ments block ac­cess to heavy ma­chin­ery re­quired to dredge these nul­lahs. In 2018, on the rec­om­men­da­tion of the Wa­ter Com­mis­sion, the Supreme Court di­rected the au­thor­i­ties to re­move en­croach­ments from 30 large nul­lahs that drain most of the city's ef­flu­ent. The or­der was never im­ple­mented as the com­mis­sion stood dis­banded. The fed­eral govern­ment has now asked the Na­tional Dis­as­ter Man­age­ment Author­ity and the armed forces to help clear the clogged nul­lahs in Karachi, which is a statu­tory duty of the city and pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ments.

Bor­ders: Since the city's land has be­come scarce, large cor­po­rate and in­sti­tu­tional builders are push­ing its bound­aries north and east­ward. DHA City and Bahria Town have al­ready de­vel­oped their re­spec­tive mega projects over thou­sands of acres of land along the strate­gic Su­per High­way/M9. But their thirst for land is not quenched. Re­cently, both have separately ac­quired large tracts of public lands for ' fu­ture use'.

Sim­i­larly, thou­sands of acres of public land have been al­lot­ted to de­vel­op­ers and in­vestors un­der the um­brella of Zul­fiqarabad - a city to be de­vel­oped in district Thatta. But given all the se­crecy, we don't know whether or not these public lands have been al­lot­ted to DHA, Bahria or oth­ers through a manda­tory public auc­tion. Even if co­dal for­mal­i­ties have been met, the land ag­gran­dis­e­ment in the guise of high-end devel­op­ment by pow­er­ful in­ter­ests is not jus­ti­fied on moral grounds, given the fact that more than half the city's pop­u­la­tion lives in katchi abadis. More­over, the ex­ces­sive grant of public land to pow­er­ful de­vel­op­ers and elites will have dis­as­trous con­se­quences - pro­mot­ing in­equal­ity and in­jus­tice, dis­plac­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties, dis­turb­ing de­mo­graphic bal­ance thereby breed­ing po­lit­i­cal and eth­nic con­flicts, and more.

There­fore, it is time the elit­ist ag­gran­dis­e­ment of land is stopped. Let the land­less and shel­ter­less have a piece of land, which is their his­tor­i­cal right.

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