Who owns Karachi?

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Nisar A Memon

KARACHI the city of cities, pearl of Arabian Sea, cleanest city of Asia, gharib parwar shahr (city caring for poor), largest city of Pakistan, largest Muslim city, and 7th largest city of the world; but above all it is historic city with originally Sindhi and Baluchi settlement. It experienced the passages and conquests of Greek, Arab, Portuguese and British. All of them left their influence in varying degree especially in architecture, which stands even today despite our negligence. It has monumental architecture starting with Karachi Port Trust building to High Court Building and now the Quaid’s Mausoleum.
Karachi gave its inhabitants educational institutions like: NJV High School, DJ Science College, St. Joseph, St Patricks, Mama Parsi School. All these names remind us of philanthropy that was in-borne in people of Karachi which is continuing even now. In fact, it has sustained Karachi. It gave us teachers like: Prof D’ Souza, Prof Sidhwa, Sir Benjamin, Prof A.L Sheikh and many others. It is noteworthy that Christians, Parsis and Jews apart from Muslim and Hindus lived and live here, except Jews. It has given the best of health facilities, from Seventh Day Hospital, Anklesaria Hospital to Aga Khan and Indus Hospitals to name a few. But above all, it gave best of national and international opportunities to educated Karachiites.
It is strategically located with Arabian Sea with lovely creeks adorned by mangroves on south, Dadu /Hyderabad with Ranikot Fort resembling Great Wall of China on its north east, historic city of Thatta on east, and Kirther Range from where the Hub and Malir Rivers flow on its west. Karachi and areas around it are traveler’s paradise, if only appropriately developed and facilities provided.
The historic city of Karachi is a hub of finance and business. The richness of the city made it first the capital of Sindh and then in 1947 the capital of country until 60’s when the capital shifted to Islamabad. All this meant population growth of a village of Kalachi Jo Kunn of 1772 from few hundreds to few thousands of 20,000 in 1839, to few lacks in 1901 of British rule, to 4.5 lacks of Quaid’s city to now of several millions i.e. 20 million of Edhi and Akhtar Hameed city.
The population is mother of all challenges. It brought in the challenges of security, water, environment, energy, food, sewerage, transportation, housing, education, health and above all the governance. We certainly can and must control population by birth control and illegal migration from Bengal, Burma and Afghanistan. The Constitution provides for security both conventional i.e. defense of our frontiers, and non-conventional security of water, energy, food and all that affects a civilized society. Water is life and we need clean drinking water for sustenance and health, agriculture and industries. The water for Karachi is supplied from Indus. On one hand, the water availability is reducing due to losses and leakages in Indus Irrigation System and on the other hand, the distribution to citizens could not be made through pipe lines since mafias emerged to take control of water being sold through bowsers at their own terms and prices. Many residents even in posh localities like DHA receiving water through bowsers compromising the quality of water. There appears to be no proper accounting of what we get and what gets distributed. The worst is that there is no accountability. It seems NRO has been given in water sector, while we talk every day of ‘No NRO’.
Environment is affected by sewerage and untreated discharge of industrial chemical waste. Apart from effects on humans it is destroying marine life and our rich mangroves as well as Naval vessels anchored at harbor. Karachi has endured the deteriorating air quality and heat wave in 2015 which caused hundreds of deaths due to dehydration and heat strokes.
Energy is key to sustainable development. Country has utilized only 15% of hydro potential of energy but have installed wind mills in Thatta the coastal wind corridor. Solar energy is employed to replace the thermal energy. Karachi proudly announced the first installation of desalination plant ‘COGEN’ in DHA but due to wrong and used supply of plant it could not be operationalize even though it got inaugurated by the President of the country in 2008. No accountability of the vendor, any officer civil or military has been reported.
Karachi a mega city has not been governed for several decades mainly because of archaic governance structure and lack of ownership. 30.9% of Karachi is under City District Government, while province owns about 20%, federal government manages 21%, Cantonments / DHA has under its belt about 10% and remaining under private and others. Governance is the key scourge of this mega city which is used and abused by all and sundry. The city was earlier victim of terrorism and now of political struggle. Complexity of managing these is a mega challenge.
It is time, those who have benefited but not repaid the debt must do so. Karachiites must take ownership and ensure putting the failing infrastructure, institutions and get investment to bring back the glory of Karachi of getting water, education, transport, crime, health etc. for its people. Industries must be given guarantees that repeat of vandalizing industrial unit with hundreds of poor workers inside burnt to ashes, will never be repeated and those criminals will be brought to books.
Can it be done? Yes, if people act collectively from all political and non-political platforms, own this jewel of city pulsating with life but divided. Karachiites have no option but to act before newer mafias replace the old ones. Act with planned and coordinated manner under institutional arrangement. All people irrespective of classes can and should play their due role to make Karachi a model for other cities to follow.
—The writer is a former federal minister and senator from Karachi.

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