Improving thelook of Pakistan

702

ZAHEER BHATTI

THE first impression of a country is established with the look it bears through town planning and traffic sense. But the manner in which master plans of various towns; specifically the main cities have been remorselessly transgressed and tampered, the entire country wears the look of a shanty habitation with erratic planning and no enforcement, as is the case with law and order where despite a legal framework in place, the writ of the State is dismally wanting either for lack of will or absence of a mechanism for enforcement. As the news of bulldozing encroachments around a Sector in Islamabad last went viral, I went looking for the spot and discovered that it was a small section along the dual carriage-way bisecting Sector F-11/3 and 4 which in a couple of years had been fast occupied by a string of automobile accessories and sundry dealers. The Government also cleared structures along Kashmir Highway with now a second round in the offing, but the real challenge would be restoring the 4 kilometre stretch of green belt separating Sectors F and G-11 and 12 called the ‘Maira Abadi’ which has been occupied since well over a decade, with solid structures. Removal of encroachments and illegal structures was admittedly a brave step by the PTI Government signalling that nothing without a considered formal approval strictly according to a Master Plan was to be allowed in any town across the country. But where in major cities like Karachi and Lahore, civility demanded that structures be removed after due notice to the occupants while making an example of those responsible for allowing them, the wrath as usual fell on the poor who were deprived of their livelihood in a jiffy, and people made homeless overnight without an inquiry and an alternative plan for the squatters who were occupying pavements in tacit arrangements with owners of encroached buildings; but not without palming off local police and municipal authorities. This state of affairs was not createdin amatter of weeks or months but was a result of another kind of mafia allowed to brew in the society. The way to stem the rot was to straight away fix responsibilities and make some heads roll and draw out a contingent plan to provide alternate work place to squatters, which is State responsibility. It would have only been fair to serve them with a reasonable notice after due deliberations to remove encroachments apprising them of a rehabilitation plan, and only then undertake demolition if encroachers failed to comply. The un-removed rubble added to the already littered look of these towns sprawling without a plan with choking sewerage gutters and lines destroying whatever road network, stinking heaps of litters and refuse all over the cities. Ideally, removal of encroachments and cleaningthe cities ought to be carried out together as one cannot await the other, but sadly, things appear to be consigned to back burner after an initial burst of action due to absence of a truly empowered Local Bodies System across the country whose job it is. Mercifully, Islamabad happened to be a chunk of virgin sparsely populated rural landmass over which aMaster Plan was drawn acquiring more than half of the area within a decade and the displaced families rehabilitated nearby, but whereas the planners not only missed out on laying an underground tube around the twin cities, and banned any sale or purchase by private individuals within the designated boundaries of the Capital, one saw a never ending chain of one-room structures emerging all over the Sectorsbeyond 11 series earmarked for housing, and making the owners entitled to plot compensation, besides a Bani Gala illegal Township emerging around Rawal Dam and polluting its water with unplanned sewerage. Throwing the master plan into the dustbin, an almost 64 square kilometre chunk beyond east of Faizabad Intersection right up to Kural, and Barakahu up to Simli Dam, which was supposed to have been earmarked for the National Orchard Schememeantto supply fruits and vegetable to the twin cities, was allowed to become a shanty town like any in the country. The overall look of Islamabad smacking of criminal complicity of the Local Administration,CDA andthe police, several heads oughtto have rolled for disfiguring Pakistan’s emerging Switzerland. What should be done post-haste is to get the 4 Kilometre stretch of green belt separating F and G Sectors 11 and 12 in the heart of Islamabad vacated from illegal occupancy, to restore and developed the green belt separating housing sectors with plantation and parks; a hallmark of the Capital. And whereas in some areas within the Federal Capital particularly along the Kashmir Highway, some illegal structures have been knocked down and decades old allotted housing sectors of E-12 and D-12 got vacated from illegal occupants, shelving their development invites the attention of the PTI Government to probe, why! The rot set in when the Capital DevelopmentAuthority abdicatingits State responsibilityto developthe virgintown by itself, allowed 6 Cooperative Housing Societies some threedecadesbacktodeveloptheprecinctsoftheGolra shrine estate, setting in motion the land-grabbing mafia transforming virtual nobodies and paupers into billionaires. A string of spurious Housing Societies have since sprung up around the twin cities, and allowed to fleece the public with rosy promises of Housing projects. Some heavenly sounding enterprises using the New Islamabad Airport as bait are attracting people with virtualimages around Gwadartouted as the land of opportunities, are making people risk billions just because the State has failed to provide shelter to its subjects and allowed the private sector to devour them. Dwelling upon woes of the Capital Town, only reinforces the need to look at requirements of at least half a century ahead while revising master plans of major towns, discouraging horizontal development, encouraging high-rises with mandatory underground parking, and include a Circular Railway to give Pakistan the look it deserves. —Thewriterisamediaprofessional,memberofPioneering team of PTV and a veteran ex Director Programmes.