Coastal Development and the KSDP 2020 Provisions

In the last three years various proposals for the development of upmarket real estate and elite recreational facilities along the Karachi waterfront have been floated. These include the DHA Waterfront Development Project along 14 kilometres of Clifton beach and waterfront in the DHA jurisdiction. The project also involves reclaiming 74.5 acres of land from the sea. Work on the DHA Waterfront Project has already begun. Sugarland City on 65,000 acres of land and an investment of US$ 68 billion involves real estate development on reclaimed land and along the beaches of Hawksbay, Sandspit, Manora and Cape Monze. Another project that has been floated is the Diamond Bar City on the Bundal and Buddo islands at the mouth of the Korangi Creek.

From all over Sindh citizens, academia, NGOs, community organisations from low and lower middle income areas, fishermen’s associations and schools have voiced their concerns regarding these projects. These concerns are related to ecology, environment, socio-economic, heritage and human rights related issues. However, these various lobbies do not have an agreed view on the future of the coastal areas. There are those who want the beaches to be left as they are and those that want development but in a manner that promotes a better socio-economic and physical environment. Then there are those who have not thought about it and those who oppose any government initiative on principle.

In the opinion of this writer, the beaches will be developed whether one likes it or not. The pressure of the real estate lobby, interests of global capital, the vision of the politicians as to what the city should be, will make sure of it. However, this development will be a disaster unless institutional arrangements are put in place to guarantee an aesthetically pleasing and environment friendly development based on principles of equity and justice. This can be achieved if the interests of the stakeholders of the coastal areas are protected and promoted in any future development.

The first and most important stakeholder is the flora and fauna of the region. The livelihood of the fishing communities and the fishing industry as a whole, depend on it. It has already been devastated by reclamation from the sea and of mangrove marshes and mud flats. It desperately needs to be protected for no city that destroys the ecology of the region it is situated in is sustainable. The South Asian Tsunami has given ample proof of this and so has the flooding of Karachi much of which is the result of reclamation from mangrove marshes, creeks and natural drainage channels for elite real estate.

The second most important stakeholder are the fishing communities whose history of over 5,000 years is recorded by archaeology and whose earliest written folklore dates back to the 11th century. The livelihood of these communities depends on the flora and fauna of the coastal area and its creeks. DHA development projects along Gizri Creek have already deprived them of their traditional sources of livelihood and related facilities. The Sugarland and Diamond Bar projects as they have been conceived will impoverish and evict them from their villages and fishing areas.

The third interest group are people from all over Pakistan who visit the beaches of Karachi and the services sector that serves them (such as hawkers, camel and horse owners, performers, palmists, sea shell sellers). The beaches are the only multi-class, multi-ethnic public spaces left in a recreation and entertainment starved Karachi. Many hundred thousand men, women and children visit them every week and the number is increasing. The real estate projects as they are structured will deprive the people of Karachi and visitors to the city of most of this public space. The fourth interest group are the land owning individuals, village communities and agencies, many of whom do not wish to be a part of these projects.

The interests of all the groups can be protected if the provisions of the Karachi Strategic Development Plan (KSDP) 2020 approved by the City Council in December 2007 are followed. However, one thing is clear that if these provisions are followed then the DHA Waterfront Development, Sugarland City and Diamond Bar City cannot be built as they have been planned. It is therefore important to look at some of the more relevant provisions of the KSDP 2020. In Section 4.8 of the Plan it is stated, “Reclamation along any section of the sea front either on the landward side or the bordering sea would not be advised. The same restriction holds for the mud flats, marshes and back water creeks, which in no way be allowed to undergo artificial morphological change detrimental to the existing hydrological environment.” And again, “The coastal sea and its back-water and creeks provide source of livelihood to fishing communities who live on the coast. The fisherman must enjoy free access to their traditional grounds in the sea, backwaters and creeks. For any development to be sustainable and acceptable, the historical rights of the communities to the sea and the coastal village land they occupy ought to be respected.”

In the same section the KSDP 2020 talks about environmental and socio-economic provisions. It states, “The coast must be protected as an environmental asset, and environment quality, including reduction of pollution of the coastal zone must be improved. Green turtle sanctuaries and mangrove ecological system along the beach, in the back-waters and creek must be preserved and measures against its degradation should be urgently taken to control pollution.” And again, “The sea-shore and the beaches should be preserved and promoted as public assets. Public access to the beaches and the coast must remain free and unhindered, and to keep the enjoyment for the general citizens, no development should be allowed in land area up to 150 meters from the high water mark.”  The KSDP 2020 also talks about “a programme to promote the sea-shore and beaches as a public asset”. It also accepts the concept of real estate development along the waterfront but in these terms “Together with coastal development programme given above, the coastal area has a potential for development such as housing, business offices, commercial establishments and public amenities in suitable sites. However, any development scheme designed in the area must adhere to the above mentioned (the ones mentioned above in this piece) guiding principles”. Another important provision states, “Development plans should be finalised with public participation and be presented for soliciting public opinion.” This has certainly not happened, on the contrary, the plans are simply not available to the public.

If the above provisions are applied then all the three coastal projects (one of which is under construction) will need to be scrapped and substantially redesigned. It is the duty of the Nazim of Karachi and of the nazims of various towns of the city to protect the provisions of their KSDP 2020. It is the duty of the citizens to support their nazimeen in doing so or to pressurise them if they do not do so. If the provisions of the KSDP 2020 are not followed then the Plan is not worth the paper it is written on. However, provisions alone do not guarantee the implementation of a plan. For that solid institutional arrangements are required which are not yet in place. After all, “a plan is as good as the institutions that implement it”.

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