L ahore is currently infested with various kinds of encroachments on public space. These range from commercial stalls and temporary shops to permanent structures, making it almost impossible for...
ahore is currently infested with various kinds of encroachments on public space. These range from commercial stalls and temporary shops to permanent structures, making it almost impossible for pedestrians and motorists to have a hassle-free journey or move freely on the city roads.
If one takes a tour of the provincial metropolis, one finds that customers visiting various bazaars, markets and shopping plazas find no proper parking space for their vehicles. There are no footpaths left for pedestrians on many city roads.
The footpaths and markets in Bilal Ganj, Shahdara, RA Bazaar, Ichhra, Chungi Amar Sidhu, Shah Alam Market, Misri Shah, Model Town Link Road, College Road, MozangChungi, Beadon Road, Shadman, Walton, Gulberg, Model Town, City railway station, Johar Town, WapdaChowk and Anarkali, as well as on Ravi Road, The Mall, Hall Road, Temple Road, Allama Iqbal Road, Circular Road and McLeod Road have been taken over by encroachments comprising roadside stalls and pop-up shops.
All this is happening due to the protection and patronage the encroachers’ mafia receives from the Municipal Corporation Lahore (MCL), the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), the traffic police and other concerned government departments.It is often alleged that their officials cannot resist the temptation to make a quick buck.
Whenever officials from one of these departments are asked for their take on the issue, they tend to pass the buck to another department.
It is pertinent to note that many initiatives have been taken in the past to clear the mess with great pomp and show by the city administration;none have achieved the intended results. Reasons for this failure are best known to the people at the helm of affairs in city administration and in the concerned government departments.
The gravity of the situation can be gauged from the fact that parts of the pavements and roads in the busiest of bazaars are allegedly auctioned by the encroachment mafia in cahoots with certain officers of the MCL. It is alleged that millionsof rupees change hands.
Two types of encroachments happen allegedly in connivance with the MCL staff. The first kind happens in complicity with the shopkeepers and regular traders. The traders allegedly lease public landin front of their shops to smaller vendors to set up temporary stalls. A portion of the payment the lessee pays is shared by MCL, LDA, traffic police and other officials.
Many initiatives were taken in the past with great pomp and show by the city administration to end these encroachments; none achieved the intended results.
In the second type of encroachments, the encroachers take illegal possession of a parkor a part of a major road after greasing the palm of the concerned government officers.
The encroachments on major roads and markets of Lahore have become a permanent nuisance for the citizens.They also give the lie to claims by municipal authorities of good, transparent and effective governance.
Over time some of the encroachers have become so powerful that when action is taken to clear the roads and streets of the encroachments, they return to the same places within a short time.
Ahmed Raza, a cellular phone vendor at Hall Road says, “I have to pay a daily rent of Rs1,500 for my stall to the shop owner behind me.”
“Things don’t stop there,” he says. “In addition, I have to pay bribes to the MCL anti-encroachment officials.
“In the past my stall was confiscated by the MCL officials.I was fortunate and got it back after greasing some palms.‘’ Raza says everyone doing business in the area has to pay in accordance with the nature of his setup. The payment varies from Rs400 to Rs1,500 a day,” he claims.
Raza says, in order to hoodwink higher authorities and the public one or two anti-encroachment raids are conducted whenever the concerned staff came under pressure. But it is just an eye-wash, he maintains.
Nearly 70 major roads and scores cooperative housing societies fall under the jurisdiction of the LDA. However, the old city and its adjoining areas fall under the domain of the MCL and the Walled City Authority. A vast area is administered by the Defense Housing Authority (DHA) and the Lahore Cantonment. This too is not entirely free of the encroachment menace.
Requesting anonymity, a senior MCL official says political pressure and corruption in the concerned government institutions are the main reasons for the encroachments. Root it out, he says, is an uphill task.
He says shopkeepers and trade associations are also guilty of patronising encroachers and collecting “rent” from them.
Mr Imran, the spokesperson for the deputy commissioner, says the matter falls under the ambit of commissioner’soffice. “The DC’s office has nothing to do with the encroachments”. However, he says, the DC’s office issues directions to the subordinate staff off and on in this regard.
The writer is a senior journalist. He can be reached at ahsanzia155gmail.com