By Syed Naeemuddin
Karachi is a megacity – one of the eight largest in the world – and it is growing exponentially despite all its problems of street crime, traffic snarls and bad governance. The city is Pakistan’s financial and manufacturing capital, the only one with a large international airport and not one but two seaports. The city contributes over 60 percent revenue to the national exchequer. When the city functions properly, the entire Pakistani economy prospers and when it stops functioning, the national economy too comes to a standstill.
But why is it then that despite such a central role, Karachi continues to be a victim of sheer neglect and apathy? On the one hand, it is not allocated the funds it rightfully deserves and on the other, no steps are taken to control the various crime mafias that rule the roost in the city and there is no letup in their misdoings.
Majyd Aziz, former president of the KCCI and a leading industrialist with investments in various industrial areas across the city says: “Karachi is a city with great resilience. It continues to survive despite all the odds pitted against it. It has a very large population and continues to be the nation’s economic hub despite all its problems. Mobile snatchings and other crimes continue to plague the streets and suburbs of Karachi and the industrial areas are no exception. Now we are very scared about taking our foreign visitors to places like Landhi and Port Qasim industrial areas and to Dhabeji. Where will Karachi go with all these problems?”
Another city industrialist, Mirza Ikhtiar Baig, shares the sentiments expressed by Majyd Aziz. He is surprised that Karachi has continued to exist as a city with so much going against it. “I am really amazed that with so many opposing elements out to destroy everything that Karachi represents, it still is a working city and not a dead one.”
Along with all the other hurdles that continue to make the life of its citizens difficult, another entrepreneur who owns a number of industries in Landhi, is particularly worried about the manner in which crime in the city is handled and there are frequent incidents of lootings and snatching at gunpoint.
All this is creating hell in the life of the people of Karachi but the city administration or the police less to care about it. Take the example of the Malir-15 flyover project that was started in 2013 and is still under construction. This delay is not only causing extreme difficulties for commuters and residents of the area, but for the large taxpaying industrial units as well. The road passing through Malir is an economic lifeline of the city as it connects with the Bin Qasim Industrial Area, the Export Processing Zone, Pakistan Steel Mills and the Landhi Industrial Area.
In one recent incident, journalists who were travelling on the road after attending an event in Port Qasim Industrial area, were looted and deprived of their mobile phones and wallets
The Landhi Association of Trade and Industry (LATI) and the Bin Qasim Association of Trade and Industry (BQATI) provide employment to more than 40,000 people. However, the traffic congestion at Malir-15 is resulting in heavy production losses to the companies, and thousands of workers who travel on this road in both directions every day continue to suffer as there is no alternate route available.
A recent research study revealed that due to traffic congestion in the Malir-15 Flyover area, Karachi has lost more than Rs100 billion in the last two years and further losses are expected. The future of foreign investment, particularly in the Bin Qasim and Landhi Industrial Areas, is jeopardized by the delayed construction of the Malir flyover, thus adversely affecting economic activities in the entire country. These delays do not happen in the Punjab and the administration there is quite alert to the needs of the people. The Walton Flyover, the Azadi Chowk Signal-free Junction and the Qainchi Signal-free Junction were all completed in less than 175 days, whereas the Malir-15 Flyover project has been delayed for more than 400 days.
Another leading Karachi businessman says this is a very sorry situation. He says that many key offices of multinational companies are situated in Bin Qasim and Landhi industrial areas and foreigners and international business delegates travel through Malir to get there. With the currently bad security situation in the area, it is getting difficult for them to travel and many of them have already left the country in the last two years.
The situation is getting worse by the day. A former Chairman of the Karachi Stock Exchange and leading businessman is worried that frequent traffic bottlenecks all over the city and at construction projects like the delayed Malir flyover are creating an acute security situation. There are many choke points in the city where innocent citizens are looted. Making the most of the poor road conditions and traffic congestion, street criminals snatch mobile phones, cash and wallets at gunpoint from the people.
Looting incidents occur regularly in the SITE area and at traffic signals all over the city. In context of the Malir flyover, a large number of employees of different textile mills and other industries lose their valuables in snatching incidents that have become a routine practice, according to the Landhi Association of Trade and Industry (LATI).
The construction work in Malir has been abandoned on many occasions owing to lack of funds – a common malady in Karachi. There are also encroachment and land acquisition issues. Frequent administrative changes add to the problems though it is expected that the incoming new local government will improve things somewhat.
During the rush hours, thousands of cars, trucks, buses and motorcycles are caught up on the narrow passage whereas it should take less than five minutes to drive from the Star Gate to cross Malir. Similarly, those coming from Quaidabad through the Pakistan Steel Mills flyover should not need more than three minutes.
Traffic snarls is a serious problem that the people undergo at various points in the city. This is further worsened by the crime situation which people tackle every day as well as the pollution hazard that spoils their health.
The writer is freelancer