The Mega Projects that Karachi Needs

Two mega projects are under construction in Karachi. One is the Lyari Expressway and the other is the Northern Bypass. The Lyari Expressway at best is a controversial project. It has been criticised by academics, professionals and NGOs. In spite of this criticism it is being built without any public consultation or consideration of the concerns that have been raised. The Northern Bypass is an extremely important project for the city. However, it has been curtailed to subsidise the Lyari Expressway. This curtailment is not in the interest of the city either as has been discussed in numerous articles in the print media. Unfortunately, no landuse plan has been developed for either of the projects and the necessary social and environmental impact studies required for such planning have not been carried out. Such studies are normally a part of the project design and an Environmental Impact Assessment is required under law. In addition to these two mega projects, the twenty-nine billion Rupees Tameer-i-Karachi Programme is also being implemented. This programme seeks to improve the existing Karachi infrastructure and surprisingly considers roads, bridges and flyovers; sewage, water and solid waste management; and GIS as something separate from a city master plan. Consequently, it has already identified 256 schemes in different sectors without a master plan being in place. However, none of the mega projects whose implementation would bring about major physical and social improvements in Karachi and pave the way for the city’s economic revival are being considered for design and implementation. These projects have been discussed for the past two and a half decades by government planners, academics, professionals, concerned citizens and NGOs.

One such mega project is the construction of double tracks from the Karachi Port to Pipri where a container terminal can be built. This will remove all container movement from the city and enormously benefit trade, commerce and industry. Another project is the construction of an oil pipeline from the refineries to an oil terminal outside of the city. At present, oil is pumped from the oil terminal in Keamari to the refineries and then pumped back to the Keamari oil terminal from where tankers carry it through the city to various locations in Pakistan. The building of the pipeline will remove 25,000 oil tankers from the streets of Karachi. Another mega project is the shifting of the Dhan Mandi and the Metal and Chemical markets from the inner city to the Northern Bypass and the development of infrastructure to make that possible. However, this shifting should not be carried out in the unscientific and non-transparent manner in which the shifting of the Karachi Sabzi Mandi has been designed and implemented. It should be done with the involvement of the mandi operators and other interest lobbies and space for future expansion and labour housing should be an integral part of it. By this relocation more than 4,000 trips per day of heavy vehicles will be removed from the inner city and numerous properties will be vacated making an urban renewal plan for the inner city possible. It is heartening to note that the Karachi Iron and Steel Merchant’s Association has initiated this move and are negotiating to shift their workshops, godowns and manufacturing units from the inner city to near the Steel Mills. However, the city government planning agencies have to make this shifting a part of a larger inner city rehabilitation plan without which the advantages of such a shift will be negated by the development of inappropriate landuse in the inner city. And finally, the construction of the circular railway and its extensions into the suburbs which will remove a major part of the commuting public from increasingly congested road corridors to the comfortable environment of a railway system, reducing travel time and the hazards of air and noise pollution related diseases. The conversion of public transport to CNG, though not a mega project, would complement the projects mentioned above. Research on the possibilities of initiating this conversion process is currently being carried out by Karachi NGOs through dialogue with other transport related interest groups.

The environmental, social and physical benefits of these projects are obvious. They will also be of enormous benefit to trade, commerce and industry. They will help in the revival of culture, recreation and entertainment, both at the city and at the neighbourhood level. Culture and recreation related activities are adversely affected by massive environmental degradation, environmental related diseases and the loss of time in commuting. Without the building of these mega projects, the physical infrastructure improvement plans proposed by the Tameer-i-Karachi Programme will only marginally improve physical conditions (and that too for the time being) but will certainly not solve Karachi’s larger development related problems.

What one fails to understand is why these important projects which have been discussed for over two decades and which can bring about such positive changes for the city’s economy and its physical and social environment, are not implemented, especially when they can repay their cost with interest over a ten to twenty year period. Their non-implementation is certainly not because of a lack of funds. When the government wishes to implement a project it finds the funds for it. For example, the Kuwait Development Fund has been mobilised for funding the Lyari Expressway and twenty-nine billion Rupees are being mobilised to fund the Tameer-i-Karachi programme.

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