Lahore Canal Widening Mediation Committee Recommendations: Arif Hasan’s Position

1. Background:

1.1 Dr. Pervez Hassan nominated me to the membership of the Lahore Canal Road Mediation Committee. I am grateful for the trust he reposed in me. I accepted the membership of the Committee because of the importance of the subject for Pakistan in general and Lahore in particular, and also because of my respect and admiration for Dr. Pervez Hassan’s environment related work.

1.2 I could not attend the first meeting of the Committee because of my commitments in Karachi. For all the subsequent meetings, I was out of Pakistan and as such could not attend those meetings either. However, I studied in detail the various presentations that were made and communicated with Dr. Sahib on the subject.

1.3 I endorsed the recommendations of the Committee because they appeared rational to me and also because I was under the impression that the Lahore Bachao Tahreek (LBT) had endorsed them as well. However, I subsequently found out that the LBT, while endorsing the main thrust of the recommendations, had certain reservations regarding the widening of the 3.525 kilometres of the Canal Bank Road as recommended by the Committee. Discussion, over the phone, with the representatives of the LBT, made me feel that there was merit in their reasoning. However, I could not form an opinion without visiting Lahore, the Canal Bank Corridor and its various linkages.

1.4 Subsequently, I visited Lahore on 04 – 05 July 2011. My activities in Lahore are given below.

2. Activities in Lahore:

2.1 During my brief stay in Lahore, I did the following:

  • 04 July, 9:15 pm – 10 pm: Travelled along the Canal Corridor between Mall Road and F.C. College.
  • 05 July, 9:20 am to 10 am: Travelled down the same section.
  • 05 July, 10:15 am to 12:15 am: Had a meeting with Mr. Sartaj Aziz and Commissioner Lahore at Beacon House University.
  • Travelled along the Canal Bank Corridor from the Mall Road intersection to the Mughalpura intersection and then to the Ring Road. From there, travelled along the Ring Road in the direction of the Airport. From there, travelled back along the Mall Road to the Southern Bypass Exit, then along the Southern Bypass, Raivand Road, Multan Road and then back to the Jail Road intersection. During this trip, I was accompanied by representatives of the LDA and LBT who explained the various issues related to the negotiations that have taken place.
  • 05 July, 2:30 pm to 3 pm: Meeting with representatives of the LBT.
  • 05 July, 4:30 pm to 5:30 pm: On my way to Airport, I took a taxi and made it drive through the Mall Road, Upper Mall Road, Circular Road and then back to the Canal Bank Road.

2.2 My observations related to these trips are given in the section below.

3. Observations:

3.1 I found the natural environment along the Canal far more attractive than I had imagined from the presentations that I had received. Also, there is a major difference in quality between the environment of the areas that have been widened and those that have not been touched. The former seem out of place in the serene environment of the latter.

3.2 I did not come across any traffic jams on the Canal Bank Road although at points on the exits to the roads that intersect the Canal Bank, traffic was slow moving. My taxi drivers and LBT representatives pointed out that the reason for this was that schools and colleges were closed. The LDA representative also mentioned the role that these institutions play in creating traffic congestion.

3.3 The other observation, which forms part of the presentations made to the Committee and also part of the recommendations, relates to service roads. All of them are under-utilised and certain sections do not appear to be utilised at all.

3.4 The Southern Bypass and its linkages can immediately be used as an alternative to the Canal Bank Road. This can be done by promoting this use and/or by making access to the Canal Bank difficult, if not impossible.

3.5 In contrast to the Canal Bank I found traffic jams on the Mall Road, Upper Mall Road, Circular Road and Hospital Road. No ambulance can possibly make its way through the traffic signals along these roads.

4. My Position:

4.1 I fully endorse the conceptual framework of the mediation report and recommendations 1 to 16. However, I do not endorse recommendation 17 and feel that the recommendations in Item 18 should be subservient to the concept of not widening any length of the Canal Bank Corridor. My reasons for this are:

  • The Canal Bank Corridor (unlike the Mall and other roads I travelled on) is a signal-free corridor, and as such, with proper traffic management and use of the service roads, it can take far more traffic than it does currently.
  • If one of the major causes of congestion at peak hours is due to school and college related traffic, then attempts at redefining its entry and exit points and better management can overcome this issue. Successful examples of such management exist in Karachi.
  • The report acknowledges that options to the Canal Bank Corridor are available though not fully developed. On the basis of what I have seen and heard, some of these options can already be exercised.
  • The loss of 3.525 kilometres of exceptionally beautiful landscape and flora should, in my opinion, not be permitted simply because of automobile pressure. I would go a step further and say that some of the areas lost to the automobile along the Canal Bank can be reclaimed without increasing traffic congestion.

4.2 It is my considered opinion that the correct approach to the issue is to prevent any widening of the Canal Bank Road as a matter of principle. Once this decision is taken, the problems arising from it can be addressed. The possibility of addressing them, even in conventional terms, exists.

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