Lyari Expressway: Citizens Concerns and Community Opposition (Abstract)


The Northern Bypass was proposed by the 1975-85 Karachi Master Plan to create a direct link between the Port and the Super Highway to the north, as a result of which, heavy diesel port related traffic would not have to pass through the city. For a number of reasons, which will be discussed in the paper, the Bypass was not built.

In 1989, an expressway along the banks of the Lyari River, through the heart of the city, was proposed as an alternative. The Expressway Project was immediately opposed by the communities living along the Lyari since their businesses and homes would be bulldozed. Some of the settlements that were to be affected were more than 200 yeas old. The communities organised themselves against the Project with the help of NGOs and concerned citizens. Academics also opposed the Project on technical grounds. Public pressure led to public hearings, as a result of which the Expressway Project was shelved and it was decided in 1996 to build the Northern Bypass alternative. However, in 2001, the military government decided to build both the projects and refused to negotiate with the communities, NGOs, professionals and academics who were opposed to the project.

The opponents of the Project joined hands and a movement against it developed. The leased settlements went to court. NGOs, representatives of political parties and concerned individuals have filed a public interest litigation against the Project. NGOs also approached the UN Habitat who sent a Fact Finding mission to Karachi. As a result of the mission, unleased settlements were provided with land and compensation. The Sindh High Court gave a judgement against the leased settlements. The judgement is full of incorrect information and shows that the judges have little or no knowledge regarding the city and or/the expressway plan. As a result, the leased settlements have now appealed to the Supreme Court. Meanwhile, demonstrations and resistance to bulldozing continues.

The Expressway Project illustrates the conflicting interest of the actors involved. The federal government, the National Highway Authority, developers, contractors, material suppliers, are all in support of the Project. Academia, NGOs, concerned professionals, communities and much of the media, are its opponents. The pro-establishment political parties, the city government, the provincial government, while concerned about the project in private, have refused to take a stand against it. Another group of professionals have proposed alternative designs for the Expressway which do not affect the leased settlements but the government agencies have refused to consider them. The paper will discuss the different interests of the different interest groups involved in the Lyari Expressway controversy.

It is for the first time in Karachi’s history that academics, professionals, media and NGOs have all come together to support communities in their struggle against development projects. What has made this possible? The paper will try to answer this question.

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