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Dr Kaiser Bengali, presenting proposals to resolve the controversial local government system at a seminar organised by the Shehri CBE, said on Monday that Sindh was facing another demographic change that would define its future politics as the Urdu-speaking population had reduced to 43 percent and other ethnic groups were growing in their numbers.
He said Pakhtuns only represented three percent of Karachi’s population in the year 1941, but now that figure has risen to 15 percent. He estimated that by the year 2045, Pakhtuns would increase to 19 percent of the city’s population, while the Urdu speaking population would fall to 40 percent. As a result, he said that by 2045, Karachi would be home to the largest Pakhtun population. He said these demographic changes were creating problems, due to what he labelled the politics of control.
Bengali, who was leading a group of concerned citizens, including some bureaucrats, said that other countries also faced such demographic changes. He believed that the Assam state in India was facing the same situation, but they contained the problem, while Karachi “has to follow it”.
The group leader recalled that during the year 1941, Sindhis represented 62 percent of the city’s population, while Urdu- speaking people were just six percent. However, within the next 10 years, the percentage of Sindhis reduced to 14, while that of the Urdu-speaking people increased to 50 percent. This increase, Bengali pointed out, was triggering a sense of anguish among Sindhis.
The creation of a single Karachi district, with enhanced powers to 18 towns, divisional planning boards and a new division in central Sindh were some of the alternative proposals put forward by him at the seminar. He said these new proposals had been given in light of the criticism faced by their original plan that had recommended the division of Karachi into three districts and one capital town.
The towns should have powers related to roads, water
supply, schools as well as dispensaries, etc., and their financial share in revenue should be fixed based on the National Finance Commission (NFC) Award, Bengali suggested.
He was of the view that creating divisional planning boards (DPBs) was needed for higher-level planning aimed at economic uplift as developmental and service provision issues tended to overlap district boundaries.
These DPBs, the group leader suggested, should be led by the chief minister and comprise a commissioner as secretary, Nazims, DCOs and five professional members. The boards would prepare regional development plans and the process as well as approve schemes, he said.
He recommended that the Capital Town, within the limits of the Karachi City District Government, should be created comprising areas that house the Governor House, Chief Minister House, Sindh Assembly, High Court, Supreme Court, Commissioner House and adjacent areas. Bengali proposed that the town’s appointed administration should be responsible to the provincial government. He said most capitals in the world had similar arrangements.
The group leader said that the Provincial Finance Commission (PFC) award that had been proposed in the LG system of 2001 should be retained and finances to all entities should be distributed through it. He said that the fixed share of finances for towns was imperative as it was widely believed that the three towns of Malir, Lyari and Keamari were virtually untouched in terms of uplift over the last eight years.
Bengali said that while it was important to ensure the delivery of services to citizens, it was more important to maintain peace in the metropolis. He believed that peace would prevail only when the problems arising out of two demographic changes could be addressed. He believed that the two demographic changes – the first being at the time Pakistan was created and the second currently taking place — defined the politics of Sindh. Bengali suggested that the “sense of anguish” in interior Sindh needed to be taken into account to bring peace in the region.
Karachi has witnessed violence over the last 26 years, which cannot be eradicated by making temporary arrangements. He said that the local government system was controversial, but there could be many ways to resolve the issues.
Bengali criticised the Local Government System of 2001, saying it did not define distribution functions and revenue as well as management of land created problems. Thus land grabbing became a political weapon and this system, he believed, undermined the authority of the provincial government and the role of political parties.
Bengali said that as a former adviser to the Sindh government, he was aware of the problems encountered by the Sindh chief minister during last year’s super floods. Had the CM’s orders been obeyed, Khairpur Nathan Shah would not have been flooded, he said, adding that the “private militia by warlords” resisted the authority of the provincial government.
He said the 1979 Local Bodies System also had its flaws
as it gave excessive authority
to deputy commissioners/commissioners, who could dismiss the elected chairman of municipal committees.
The group leader said that a solution was needed, keeping the whole province in mind, as it would be impracticable to separate Karachi from the rest of Sindh. Karachi was very much integrated and dependent on the rest of Sindh, Bengali believed.
Later, while talking to media representatives, he said some of bureaucrats were also members of the group. He also explained that the group had presented draft proposals for the new LG system, which was supported by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP).
Public hearings on LG System: Meanwhile, noted town planner and intellectual Arif Hasan suggested for conducting public hearings before introducing the proposed local government system in the province.
He said it was an established practice in the world that a series of public hearings were held before introducing reforms, adding, “There is no harm in holding 200-250 public hearings on the proposed LG system”. The town planner said that such hearings were imperative since political parties, groups and other elements have vested interests in this system. He warned that the people would not accept any LG system if introduced without holding public hearings.
The eminent intellectual pointed out that four principles, namely, the Constitution, practicalities, ethical issues and services delivery should be given due consideration before introducing or running any system. He opined that without developing consensus on these principles, the system could not run successfully.
The noted writer said that the current political situation in Sindh reminds him of Minto Morley reforms and the direction of the politics that ensued. “There could be many situations and I am extremely worried about it,” Arif Hasan said.
Roland de Souza of Shehri-CBE regretted that the political parties did not talk about providing services to the citizens since they happen to be more interested in talking about political control and getting larger size of cake. He opined that land-grabbing, extortion and crimes were the symptoms of the system that did not work.
Referring to lack of development infrastructure, water, sewerage, affordable and efficient transport system, etc, the Shehri representative said that a sane society could not operate under these circumstances. Roland said that over 60 per cent of Karachi’s population lives in slum areas, which implies that the city has failed to deliver. He lamented that the long-term development planning had been done away with and replaced by need-based planning being done by the mafias and groups.
He said the narrow state of mind and lack of visionary leadership had created this mess and its solution required bringing radical changes in the attitudes.
The Shehri representative said that by holding such seminars they wanted to stimulate public debate on local government system to find a solution and introducing a citizen-centric system.
PPP wants status quo: The PPP is seriously considering maintaining status quo on the LG system for the time being as they do not want to take any decision in a hurry, said Taj Haider on Monday.
Speaking at Shehri’s seminar on the LG system and answering questions, the PPP, Sindh, general secretary, said they would give serious considerations to representation to women and minorities in the proposed LG system. He said November 6 was not the final date for introducing the LG system and hoped that both the PPP and MQM would find a way out. Haider disclosed that the PPP was doing some home work on Dr. Kaiser Bengali’s proposals for combining elements of 2001 and 1979 LG systems.
He said Karachi could not be seen in isolation. Some special arrangements can be made for districts but system and laws have to be uniform. He said that the 2001 LG system was a violation of the fundamental principles of the Constitution in many ways but imperatives of consolidating democracy prompted them to pursue consensus politics. The PPP leader said they did not want confrontationist politics as experience of Nawaz Sharif’s last regime reflected that some good things of his era were lost on account of confrontation.
In contrast to it, they achieved the Seventh NFC award and unanimous passage of the 18th amendment through the consensus politics.
He said they sought consensus among the political parties to hold general elections in year 2013 in a transparent manner, which would help to consolidate democracy. Haider said the PPP had serious reservations about the 2001 LG ordinance as it did not lay down the criteria of carving out districts. As a result, districts were created along political and ethnic lines. District councils were done away, eliminating representation of rural areas of Karachi.
Zulfiqar Halepoto of the Sindh Democratic Forum (SDF), representing the stance of the Sindh nationalists said there was a misconception that the Sindhis were in favour of commissionerate system. He said the nationalist parties’ main objections over the LG system of 2001 were that it made Karachi, a city of 20 million as one city while Hyderabad with 4 million populations was divided into five districts on basis of ethnicity.
Halopoto said that another complaint of theirs was that the LG system introduced what he called discriminatory development as the rural areas of Karachi were deprived of uplift projects while Sindhi dominating areas of Hyderabad were neglected. He claimed that LG system increased ethnic hatred in the province, which was exploited by feudals, the MQM, and the Establishment
The SDF representative said they opposed the system because it widened the gap between rural and urban areas and holistic development of Sindh was declined. He said the nationalists objected the LG system because under it, the administrative affairs were over-politicised. The nationalists demanded that old status of Karachi and Hyderabad be restored and land and police should not be given under the control of Nazims. Zulfiqar said things could not improve till the both PPP and MQM stopped treating Karachi and rest of Sindh as their “constituencies”.
ANP Sindh leader Rana Gul Afridi who sent the party’s opinion on the LG system through a paper, said that 1979 was a better LG system because there used to be one councillor. In contrast to it, the Musharraf-era LG system introduced 13-14 councillors in one town, which increased administrative expenditure and corruption at the grassroots level. Afridi said under the 2001 LG system, councillors and Nazims continued blackmailing each other.
The MQM declined to attend the seminar or send its paper, said Shehri’s General Secretary, Mrs. Amber Alibhai. She informed the audience that the MQM leader Dr. Farooq Sattar sent a mobile message to her, stating they could not attend the seminar as they were preoccupied with other pressing engagements.