The Lyari Expressway: Citizen’s Concerns and Community Resistance

The Lyari Expressway Project

The northern and southern bypasses were proposed by the Karachi Development Plan 1975-85. They were to be built from the Port to the Super Highway and the National Highway respectively, and as a result, all port related traffic would be able to bypass the city. The Plan considered these bypasses to be important both in economic and environmental terms. The Southern Bypass could not be built because of opposition from the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) (then the Defence Housing Society) through which a part of its alignment passed. The DHA was concerned about the environmental pollution that the bypass would cause to some of its neighbourhoods. It was also politically powerful enough to get its point of view accepted. The Northern Bypass was not built either. This was because of a state of administrative and political anarchy in the post-1977 period of Karachi’s history that made decision making difficult and development projects a non-priority.

In 1978, heavy rains caused flooding in Karachi. In the Lyari Corridor a number of houses along and in the river bed were washed away. About 200 persons lost their lives. As a result, WAPDA prepared a Flood Protection Plan for the Lyari river belt. Monuments were established marking the flood levels on both banks. Embankments were proposed along with channelising the river. The plan was also not implemented.

In 1986, a group of public-spirited citizens proposed the Lyari Expressway as an alternative to the Northern Bypass. This Lyari Expressway proposal consisted of building a road from the Port along the Lyari River to the Super Highway, which is Karachi’s main link with the rest of Pakistan. A government study found the construction of the Lyari Expressway unfeasible along the banks as over 100,000 people (at that time) living along the river would have to be evicted as a result of its construction. However, the idea of the Expressway appealed to the politicians and planners and so in 1989 the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) involved the Canadian International Development Authority (CIDA) in the Lyari Expressway project. CIDA proposed an elevated corridor (on columns) in the middle of the river as the most feasible option as it would not displace any Lyari Corridor communities. The cost of the elevated expressway was put at six million Rupees. However, in 1993, rains again flooded the lower lying Lyari Corridor settlements. As a result, planners proposed the building of the Lyari Expressway along both banks as a solution for flood protection and also for generating funds through a toll for cost recovery. The skyway project, however, remained unaffected.

The Urban Resource Centre (URC), a Karachi NGO involved in research and advocacy, objected to both the proposals. The URC’s objection was that the expressway was not an alternative to the Northern Bypass; it would cause immense noise and air pollution for the most densely populated of Karachi settlements; the elevated option would be aesthetically ugly and the bank roads would displace poor communities. In addition, the expressway project would not open up land for relocation of the inner city markets, warehousing and informal manufacturing units which the Northern Bypass would. The URC expressed its point of view through a number of forums and newspaper articles. However, there was little or no response from politicians and government planners on the concerns raised by the URC.

The URC then held meeting along the Lyari Corridor and explained the Lyari Expressway project to the communities. Separate meetings were held for women and men. As a result, the Lyari Nadi Welfare Association (LNWA), consisting of forty-two community organisations was formed. Meanwhile, the URC also developed alternative plans for redirecting port traffic from the Port to the Super Highway and costed them. These plans, along with photographs, maps and estimates, were given to the LNWA and they in turn contacted their MNAs and MPAs and the Chief Minister of Sindh. As a result, the project was delayed. All this information and documentation was also sent to CIDA and the Canadian Embassy. A visit of a Canadian journalist, John Stackhouse, was also arranged to the Expressway site. CIDA finally backed out and the skyway proposal was shelved.

Finally, in 1994, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) during the second Benazir government decided to build the Expressway on either side of the river on a Build-Operate-Transfer basis as an alternative to the Northern Bypass. The cost of the Expressway was 720 million Rupees. It was to pass under twelve existing bridges on the river. Eight thousand shacks and small business enterprises at the lower end of the river were removed for its construction. No compensation was given to the affectees and since almost all of them were encroachers, they were politically weak and not able to put up a resistance. The project was further modified after the involvement of the Frontier Works Organisation (FWO). As a result, the under passes were abandoned for bridges over the existing bridges and the cost increased to 3,200 million Rupees. This change also meant a considerable increase in the number of affectees. An Abu Dhabi Consortium was contacted to build the Expressway on a Build-Operate-Own basis. However, the demolitions along the Lyari River led to opposition of the project by citizens, NGOs and the more consolidated and comparatively politically powerful Lyari communities due to which a number of politicians became concerned. This opposition led to public hearings in 1996 which were arranged by the Senior Minister of the Sindh Government. As a result of the public hearings, it was decided to build the Northern Bypass and abandon the building of the Lyari Expressway.

Subsequently, in 2001, the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) after considerable consultation with interest groups finalised the proposal for the building of the Northern Bypass as a six lane highway of sixty-eight kilometres length. It was to join the Super Highway well beyond Karachi’s municipal limits so as to minimise congestion on Karachi’s main exit point to the north-east. However, in June 2001, the government of General Pervaiz Musharraf decided to build both the Northern Bypass and the Lyari Expressway within the Northern Bypass budget and on the basis of the FWO Plan and in violation of the decisions taken as a result of the 1996 public hearings. To subsidise the Lyari Expressway the Northern Bypass alignment was changed to reduce its length. It now joins the Super Highway just beyond Sohrab Goth and its six lanes have been reduced to four. Previously, the proposed expressway project was a Sindh government and KMC undertaking. This too was changed and the National Highway Authority (NHA), a federal government institution, was entrusted with its construction.

The NHA’s Expressway Proposal 2001 is a 16.5 kilometres long three lane road along both banks of the Lyari River. The expressway consists of sixteen over passes and its construction cost has been estimated at 5.1 billion Rupees and the cost of evictee resettlement is 2.1 billion Rupees. Completion time for the project was set as three years. Evictee resettlement consists of providing a plot of 80 square yards in the peri-urban areas of Karachi for each demolished housing unit plus 50,000 Rupees in cash. The government has justified the project by saying that it will easy traffic flow within the city and will also remove people from the flood zone to safer locations.

Citizens And Community Concerns

When the project was announced in the press, the LNWA and various other community organisations approached their political representatives and local government functionaries. They asked for details of the project, especially of houses that were to be affected and for plans showing the Expressway alignment. They demanded consultations on the project. None of this information was made available to them. In addition, they were told that there was no way that the project could be changed or altered and that this was a project completely controlled by the federal government. The District Nazim and a number of town nazims (the Expressway passes through six Karachi towns) came out strongly in support of the Expressway and emphasised that its construction would remove people living in miserable conditions to better locations. However, as opposition to the Project increased the nazims of all the six towns, the Expressway passes through, have expressed concerns at the inadequacy of the resettlement plan and four of them have also expressed a preference for the earlier 1994 plan.

A number of NGOs and academics related to urban planning got together with the Lyari community organisations and drew up a list of concerns. These were sent to the President, the City Nazim and all other relevant agencies and government departments through the URC. No reply to these concerns was given by any individual or agency.  The six major concerns are summarised below.

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  2. […] the 1890s, the river used to split into two branches. One of these, the northern branch, flowed into the Sandspit waters (located between the Hawke’s […]

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