The Northern Bypass and the Lyari Expressway

The Northern Bypass was proposed by the Karachi Master Plan 1975-85. If the bypass had been built, all port related traffic which now passes through the city, would have been redirected through it to the Super Highway. Since this traffic consists mainly of heavy diesel vehicles, their bypassing the city would have helped in removing congestion and pollution in Karachi. However, the bypass, for a variety of reasons, was never built and over the years the volume of port related traffic has steadily increased congesting and polluting the city further.

In 1989 a group of public spirited citizens proposed the Lyari Expressway as an alternative to the Northern Bypass. The Expressway was to be an elevated one built over the Lyari River from the port to Sohrab Goth. Subsequently, the local government changed its design and it was decided to build the Expressway along the banks of the Lyari River.

Many professionals, NGOs and citizens of the Lyari Corridor, objected to the building of the Expressway. They were concerned that there would be large scale dislocation of communities living along the corridor along with the destruction of business, social facilities and physical infrastructure. The number of families to be affected, were calculated at anything between 12,000 to 25,000. It was felt by opponents of the Expressway that the government did not have the financial and technical capacity to finance and manage a relocation project of this scale for the affectees and nor did it have developed land at appropriate places for such a project either. It was estimated that the relocation project would cost many times more than the Expressway itself. The opponents also pointed out the large scale corruption and victimisation of the poorer affectees that has accompanied all relocation projects in the past.

Another concern was that since the Expressway was passing through the centre of the city, it would increase environmental pollution along an already congested and polluted corridor. The proponents of the Expressway have pointed out that port related traffic is not sufficiently large to cause any major increase in pollution. However, the opponents pointed out that such traffic would increase in the future as it has done in other cities where heavy traffic passing through the city on expressways built for it has been banned.

Then there were other concerns. Traffic generated by the port and inner city wholesale markets and manufacturing units (Dhan Mandi, Metal Market, Chemical Market, to name a few) required cargo terminals and warehousing which have developed informally in the narrow lanes of the inner city and wherever space was available. This has congested the inner city and caused large scale environmental degradation of which Karachitees are, only too well aware. The Lyari Expressway would not provide space for cargo terminals and warehouses or for the shifting of the markets which is essential if the enormous problems of the inner city, and of Karachi for that matter, are to be addressed, Such space could only be provided by the building of the Northern Bypass. Also, the Expressway was joining the Super Highway at Sohrab Goth. Sohrab Goth is already congested. The Expressway would congest it further, clogging up their main exit to the city. The Northern Bypass on the other hand, joins the Super Highway beyond Sohrab Goth.

Proponents of the Expressway have also pleaded that by building the Expressway they will remove the drugs and land mafia from the corridor. The opponents have argued that the mafias will simply move to other areas of the city if at all. Sohrab Goth was bulldozed in 1987 using this logic, but drugs and arms have increased many folds since then and much of it in the same location.

Many public hearings and discussions were held on the two alternatives and in 1998 it was decided by the then Mayor that the Northern Bypass alternative was a better solution.

After coming to power the present military government took important steps to undertake the building of the bypass alternative. However, in June 2000 it decided to build both the Bypass and the Lyari Expressway. Consultants to the Expressway project are on record that 1.5 million square yards will be reclaimed from the building of the Expressway and on this the affectees are to be rehabilitated. In addition, it has been stated, though not categorically, that the Expressway will not be used for port related heavy traffic (thus it will not be an environmental hazard) but that it will be developed in a manner similar to the Canal Bank in Lahore.

Most of the previous objections of the opponents of the Expressway still stand but a new concern can how be added. The Lyari Corridor is really the spill over of the economic activity and related residential requirements of the old and inner city where due to a lack of space much of this activity is now taking place on the pavements and roads. If 1.5 million square yards is to be reclaimed for the affectees by the building of the Expressway, the affectees will sell this to the market operators and transporters of the old city since in the corridor land values even for informal possession can be as high as Rs 15,000 per square yard. Projects for Karachi have shown again and again that the market is stronger than government agencies and there is no reason at all to believe it will be any different this time. Thus, if the Expressway is to be built, it has to be a part of a larger rehabilitation plan for the old city. It should be preceded by the building of the Northern Bypass and the shifting of the markets and related activities in the inner city and the Lyari Corridor to the Bypass. This will decongest the inner city (something its residents have been demanding for years) and make its rehabilitation possible.

A spokesman for the National Highway Authority (NHA), in a letter to the press has stated that these concerns, including the inner city issues, are all being addressed in the Lyari Expressway Plan. However, the market organisations, the people living along the corridor, the transporters, relevant academic institutions and the Karachi NGOs who have a track record of serving this city, are completely oblivious of these plans.

Karachi has a history of failed plans simply because the involvement, knowledge and considerable research work of various interest groups was not only not solicited but their advice was ignored. Their concerns have always proved to be correct. It is therefore important that the NHA plan is shared with the citizens, academia, press and NGOs of Karachi and public hearings held around it before it is finalised. If this is not done then who will bear the blame if the Plan ends in yet another disaster for the city and for the affectees and projected beneficiaries of the project?

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