Planning for Karachi: An Agenda for Citizens and NGOs

Planning, like politics, is the art of the possible. Therefore, planning can only be effective if it relates to the social, economic and political reality of the society and region it is meant for. For Karachi, there are four major realities that must be taken into consideration if planning and its implementation is to be doable. This article discusses these realities. Good governance is a necessary component of the planning and implementation process. An important aspect of planning related governance is the relationship between the various actors in the planning and development drama. The more equitable this relationship, the more appropriate and realistic planning will be. Karachi’s concerned citizens, NGOs, CBOs and interest groups, should therefore aim at making this relationship more equitable. This article also attempts to promote a possible agenda for this purpose.

But first the realities:

The first reality is that much of Karachi’s physical and social sector facilities are provided by a non-formal sector of entrepreneurs and so-called mafias, often in defiance of state rules and regulations. The scale of their activities, which is increasing every day, is enormous. For example, Karachi requires about 80,000 housing units every year. However, between 1987- 1992, building permits were issued for an average of 26,700 housing units per year. Of these, only 3 per cent were supported by loans from the House Building Finance Corporation (HBFC). Part of this large demand-supply gap is taken care of by dallals through the creation of approximately 28,000 housing units each year in katchi abadis. A minimum of 1,000 acres of state land is occupied every year in the process for which poor communities pay a minimum of 560 million rupees to dallals and corrupt government agencies. The rest of the demand-supply gap is taken care of through densification of existing inner city areas, illegal construction in planned areas and postponement of construction. Strictly speaking, all housing activity without building permits is illegal.

Similarly, 30 per cent of Karachi’s 6,450 tons per day solid waste is recycled or used as fuel for pottery kilns. The recycling industry, which has an estimated turn over of 1.2 billion rupees per year and which provides employment, directly or indirectly, to over 40,000 persons, also operates in defiance of state laws and regulations. It is estimated that 30 per cent of the time of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) solid waste management related staff and vehicles is spent in working informally for the recyclers.

In the field of transport, Karachi depends entirely on the private sector. The vast majority of the 15,000 plus Karachi mass transit vehicles are individually owned and have been purchased by informal loans at about 100 per cent per year interest. It is these money lenders who for the most part control Karachi’s transport today and are likely to do so for the foreseeable future. Bus owners have paid back an estimated 24 billion rupees to these money lenders for their vehicles. These buses, especially the mini buses, operate in areas where there are no roads and link Karachi’s unserviced low income suburbs to the city. No formal bus company would operate in these conditions. In the same way water tankers are purchased and according to the Water Tanker’s Association, they operate over 50,000 trips a day with a daily turn over of 10 million rupees.

In the field of employment, according to the Karachi Development Plan 2000, 75 per cent of jobs in the city are generated by the so-called informal sector which increasingly services the needs of formal sector industry and produces cheap consumer items for the low and lower income groups. In 1974, this “informal” sector employment was calculated at 66 per cent. Similar figures can be quoted for water and sewage infrastructure in low income katchi abadis and lower middle income planned areas. The list is endless.

Most of these services providers have now come of age. They have formed associations to protect and promote their interests. The city cannot function without them and the state is in no position to replace them. They constantly lobby with government agencies for infrastructure and support for their activities. There is a need to make use of their knowhow, support their good practices and get them to agree to regulate their damaging ones. But that can only happen if a sympathetic understanding of how they operate can be arrived at and through a dialogue with them. Such an understanding already exists with a number of Karachi NGOs and professionals who are constantly in touch with them and have documented their work.

The second reality is that every plan for Karachi has emphasised that urban management of what exists should be the top priority for the city and that we should build on what we have. However, priority has not been given to this recommendation. On the contrary, priority has been given to promoting plans that are not compatible with the social and economic realities of the identified beneficiaries or to grandiose projects that are capital intensive and environmentally disastrous. Most of these grandiose projects are not implemented even through crore of rupees are spent on designing and promoting them. The Metroville projects had to be abandoned since they could not meet their objectives and could not attract the target group. The Lines Area Redevelopment Project has created a high density slum in the city centre and deprived the city of valuable land for its desperately needed urban infrastructure. And this was only because it was based on wrong wishful assumptions. The 3 billion rupees (in 1991) Lyari Expressway Project, promoted in its various forms as an alternative to the Northern Bye-Pass, has also been abandoned. Environmentally it would have been a disaster, since it would have taken heavy diesel vehicles from the port to the Super Highway through the city centre. In addition, it would have opened up land speculation, introduced degraded land-use practices in the heart of the city and displaced 25,000 houses, businesses, schools, health facilities and infrastructure worth at least 8 billion rupees! All this was foreseen by opponents of the project. Similarly, the present mass transit proposal for a 13 kilometre corridor costing 668 million US dollar has been in the doldrums for the last 6 years for financial reasons. It will be an environmental disaster and will not be affordable for poorer Karachiites. Similar projects in other Third World cities have not solved transport and traffic problems. Cheaper to build, environmentally friendly and much larger scale alternatives are staring us in the face. Also in these 6 years no attempts to improve the existing transport modes have been made, even through 85 per cent of Karachiites will still be using them even if all 3 mass transit corridors are ever completed.

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