The KMTP and its Impact on the Urban Landscape of Karachi

The inner city areas will be the worst affected by the KMTP transit-ways. Here the transit-ways are elevated throughout. The medians are narrow, in some places less than 24 meters. The stations cover the entire width of the roads. An increasingly large volume of people will be getting off and on at the stations as the city expands. The portions of the two priority corridors that pass through the inner city areas also contain the major shopping centres, markets and office buildings of the city.  In addition, many of Karachi’s historic buildings and cultural institutions lie along these stretches.

As a result of the factors described above, the existing businesses and residential units will simply not be able to survive in the environmental degradation that will take place. The situation is made more serious by the fact that some of stations are near the major markets along the corridors. Along Corridor One there is a station at the electrical market in front of the KMC building and another one in front of the Jamia Cloth Market on M. A. Jinnah Road. These stations cover the entire width of the road right in front of the markets, depriving them and the space below the station of light and air, thus creating unhealthy conditions. Every few minutes large number of people will land on the pavements before these markets from the stations above. The roads in front of these markets will also be clogged with traffic. Similarly, the office and businesses along the corridors in the inner city will experience an increase in noise and air pollution and difficulty in access to their premises. The older buildings will be subject to vibrations produced by fast moving vehicles on the transit-ways.

In the inner city along the transit-ways there are a number of health and educational institutions. Civil, Charania, Seventh Day Adventist and Sea Breeze hospitals and the Taj Medical Complex lie in the inner city on Corridor One.  Civil Hospital and Charania lie on the narrower parts of it. In addition, Dow Medical College, NJV High School and Mama Parsi Girl’s School also lie on the inner city portion of Corridor One. All these institutions already face problems due to air and noise pollution. The transitway will pass in front of them at a height of about 7.5 metres. As a result they will have little option but to move out or worse still, survive in adverse conditions.

Over the years, architects and planners have discussed the possibilities of rehabilitating Karachi’s historic buildings and districts. After the construction of the transit-ways in the inner city, this discussion will cease as more than one‑third of Karachi’s listed buildings will be over‑shadowed by the transit-way and the urban space in front of them will cease to exist. To see the sky properly in these areas one will have to climb onto the transit-way.  It will no longer be possible to use these old buildings for the purposes they were built for or the purposes for which they are currently being used.

The listed monuments that lie along these corridors include Merewether Tower, built in 1892 in the memory of Sir William Merewether who was commissioner in Sindh from 1868 to 1877; Max Denso Hall, built in 1886 in honour of Max Denso who was six times the President of the Karachi Chamber of Commerce and Industry; and City Courts, built in 1868 on the site of the jail constructed by the British in 1847. The freedom fighters of the 1857 War of Independence were hung by the British in this jail. The other listed monuments are the KMC building, a major landmark of Karachi, which houses the first municipal body in the Subcontinent; the old Sindh Assembly building which housed the first Sindh Assembly after Sindh separated from Bombay in 1935; the Khaliddina Hall and Library built in 1905 where Maulana Muhammad Ali and Shoukat Ali were tried by the British during the Khalafit Movement; Empress Market built in 1889 on the site where in 1857 the leaders of the War of Independence were blown up by the mouths of cannon; the Parsi Fire Temple built in 1875; the Zoological Garden built in 1860 as one of the earliest zoos in South Asia; the Brooks Church built in 1875; and the Mazar of Quaid‑i‑Azam. In addition to these listed buildings, there are scores of exquisite structures on both sides of M.A. Jinnah Road from Merewether Tower to Garden Road.  Any city would be proud of this heritage and instead of writing it off in favour of a transit-way, it would try and preserve it and rehabilitate the districts in which this heritage is situated. The loss of this heritage will be a major tragedy for the city of Karachi. M.A. Jinnah Road and the buildings on it represent the period after 1843, when Karachi developed from a small sleepy town to a major Indian port.

Physical and Social Dislocation

The construction of the transit-ways, as discussed earlier, will also cause physical and social dislocation to many residential and commercial units.  This dislocation has only been worked out for Priority Corridor One and is to be addressed through an Involuntary Resettlement Plan whereby affectees will be compensated. According to the draft report on Involuntary Resettlement, 1724 units may be affected if the proposed alignment is adopted. Of these 1379 are commercial units in the centre of the business district and 363 are residential units. Resettlement costs of these units have been worked out at Rs 360 million by the draft report. Case histories on resettlement tell us that this cost will be more than 5 times of what has been estimated. This resettlement is not included in the Project cost.

The number of units that will be affected by the construction of the transit-way is, however, much higher.  During construction a large number of businesses will not be able to operate and traffic will not be able to move on M.A. Jinnah Road or parts of it, causing immense inconvenience and disruption. These losses need to be costed. Construction on Corridor One is supposed to take 4 years to complete, but given the history of development projects in Karachi, it may well take 8 to 10 years or even more. After the transit-way becomes operable, markets and shopping centres along the corridor, especially at the stations, will be affected. The Jamia Cloth Market, the electrical market opposite the KMC Building and other markets catering to the middle classes will surely lose their clients in the same manner as the shopkeepers of eastern Saddar have lost theirs as a result of the development of transport related activities in their areas.

Past experience tells us that the civic institutions in Karachi have no capacity and capability for resettling affectees, with the result that projects have either been abandoned after commencement or have been delayed for years on end. This has resulted in litigations, increase in project costs, misuse of public money and inconvenience to the affectees and the public at large. For example, the Lines Area Redevelopment Project which was to be completed in 7 years is still less than half complete although it began over 11 years ago. It is now almost abandoned causing immense suffering to the residents. The Lily Road Bridge required the removal of 34 shops so that it could be constructed. It has taken 7 years (1987‑1994) to remove these illegal structures. The examples are too numerous to list.

The affectees on Corridor One are not katchi abadi residents or illegal squatters. The vast majority of them have fully serviced units and pay taxes. They will certainly go in for litigation. If that happens the Project will he held up indefinitely thus increasing construction costs and causing unbearable inconvenience to the affectees and the citizens.  The project should have been discussed with the affectees and the communities that live and work along the corridor, in its conception stages, and their agreement sought. This was very necessary, especially because all resettlement carries with it a political cost, which a government maybe unwilling to pay at any particular time during its tenure.  However, this did not happen.

Time Period and Cost of Construction

It is estimated that the project will be completed in twenty years and on its completion will serve just over 20 percent of Karachi’s population. It is felt by the critics of the project that due to inflation, delays due to litigation by affectees and other operational and resettlement issues, the project may cost well up to Rs 50 to 60 billion instead of the estimated Rs 24 billion. Critics have also calculated that the cost of using the transit-ways will be much more than the estimated Rs 6 to 8 per trip at current prices.  One estimation puts the cost per trip at Rs 30 plus. If this is so the project is not feasible unless the government subsidizes its operation and maintenance, which is unlikely.

The Densification Proposal

So far detailed studies have only been prepared for Corridor One. According to these studies the transit-way is ostensibly being built along this corridor because there exists, a high density of commuting population on it. However, the system is so costly that in order to recover costs under BOT system, capacity utilisation of the mass transit system will have to be raised by promoting increase in commuting density by construction of real estate, often in the form of sky scrapers, along M.A. Jinnah Road.

This proposal will face a number of problems. There are already a number of high-rise buildings on M.A. Jinnah Road that are lying incomplete and vacant for the last 10 years due to a variety of reasons, including the absence of water, sewage, gas and electricity. The real estate development proposed by the KMTP will require infrastructure which in turn will require hundreds of millions of rupees and over a decade of construction work. The KMTP has not costed or provided for these expenditures and judging from past and current experiences, the KDA does not have the finances, capacity and capability of carrying out such an exercise, nor can such capacity be built overnight. As such financial difficulties are envisaged for recovery of capital costs and operation and maintenance.

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