The Lyari Expressway: Citizen’s Concerns and Community Resistance

Many attempts at initiating a dialogue with the government agencies have been made. In March 2002, under pressure of demonstrations and press articles, the Karachi Nazim promised that the city government would provide all details, feasibility studies, estimates and environmental assessments regarding the project to the community leaders. He also promised that a list of affected families will be published and that a committee of experts will be formed to review the projects. However, none of the above happened although demolitions were stopped and a nine-member expert committee was formed to review the project. The committee could not meet since, after its formation, the government agency experts were not available.

There is constant contact and dialogue however, between the communities and the Lyari Expressway Resettlement Project Director and his staff. The Director is very clear regarding his role. He is not willing to discuss the pros and cons of the project. His job is simply to resettle affected families after bulldozing their settlements or negotiating an agreement to move. The NHA, which is in-charge of executing the project, is unapproachable. Its staff puts up the markings for the alignment and initiates construction. Thus, the construction of the Expressway is the job of the federal government and the job of the provincial and the city government is to acquire vacant land along the Expressway alignment and hand it over to the NHA. Resettlement is funded by the federal government but is the responsibility of the provincial and city government.

The stay granted by the High Court against the demolition of leased settlements has prevented their demolition. The Sindh High Court in its verdict of 14 October 2003 has stated that the Lyari Expressway is a project of national importance and therefore properties can be acquired for it. It has also stated that appropriate compensation should be provided to the affectees in accordance with law. However, the relevant law has not been quoted or identified. Furthermore, the judgement states that only such land should be acquired as is absolutely necessary for the construction of the Expressway. Since the judgement no bulldozing of leased properties has taken place.

The court had not granted a stay to bulldozing of unleased properties. As a result, people have been forced to accept compensation and move. Most have shifted to rented accommodation in the city while sending a member of their families to take possession of the plot that has been offered to them in the resettlement sites. This process has divided the movement against the Lyari Expressway between leased and unleased communities and in the process, the movement has weakened. How the government will deal with the leased settlements, remains to be seen. Paying compensation to them at market rates makes the entire project unfeasible in economic terms. Newspaper reports suggest that government has initiated a dialogue with the Kuwait fund for financing the Expressway and resettlement costs. Again, no details are available or accessible. Meanwhile, a public interest litigation against the Expressway has been filed in December 2003 in the Sindh High Court. It has not yet come up for hearing. The petitioners are political parties and/or their representatives along with a number of important Karachi based NGOs1.

The opponents of the Expressway (or of its present design) fail to understand as to why the government has refused to negotiate or consult with them or with the affectees and why serious concerns and alternatives presented by Karachi citizens, academics and politicians have been ignored. They also fail to understand as to why the details of the alignment cannot be made public. News items in the press have stated that 1.8 million square yards of land will be vacated for development as a result of the Expressway construction. Newspaper articles have also made similar comments. The Lyari Corridor community activists are also sure that this is the case and that the secrecy that surrounds the Project is because “their” land is being handed over to developers. They argue that this is the reason that much more land is being acquired for the Expressway than would be required if the WAPDA Floor Protection Plan parameters are followed.


A number of lessons and conclusions can be derived from the Lyari Expressway project and the opposition to it. First that conventionally trained planners and migrant politicians do not give importance to the traditional rights of local communities to their land, history and culture. Nor do community related social and economic considerations figure in the design of projects which are seen as fulfilling a certain limited function such as facilitating traffic or “beautifying” an area. Second, that movements become more effective when poor communities, academics, researchers and NGOs who can provide organisational and managerial guidance, come together. It is only then that the media and the middle classes support the interests of poor communities and overcome their deeply ingrained prejudices against them. Third, that manipulated and weak provincial and city governments who depend on the centre for their survival, cannot protect the interests of their constituents. In the absence of such protection, their constituents have no option but to seek support of their ethnic and/or trade related organisations. This fragments society and weakens the political and judicial process. Four, that city planning is no longer a priority in this age of globalisation and cut backs on public spending. Planning has been replaced by projects supported by external funding, mostly in the form of loans or through the BOT or BOO processes. In the absence of planning, land values determine landuse and project feasibilities and not social and environmental considerations. Five, the dependence of district governments and town councils on federal government funds makes them ineffective in challenging or disagreeing with programmes and projects that adversely affect their constituencies. And six, there is no de-facto and de-jure consensus making or consultative process which can resolve differences and conflicts and make planning pro-poor and environmentally friendly. In the absence of such a process, the more powerful interest manages to impose its decisions on other interest groups.

  1.  The peti­tion­ers are: i) Taj Haider, Cen­tral Infor­ma­tion Sec­re­tary of the Pak­istan Peo­ples Party in his per­sonal capac­ity; ii) National Party; iii) Pak­istan Mus­lim League (N); Awami National Party; v) national Work­ers Party; vi) Jiye Sindh Mahaz; vii) Human Rights Com­mis­sion of Pak­istan; viii) URC; ix) Aurat Foun­da­tion; x) ACCP; xi) Orangi Pilot Project-Research and Train­ing Institute

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