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June 8, 2019

Let’s talk about Karachi

Opinion

June 8, 2019

Karachi is the largest city of the country as well as its economic engine and the biggest hub of trade and commercial activities. Unfortunately, it seems to be the most ignored urban centre of Pakistan. Its stakeholders are ready to extract money and resources from its citizens but when it comes to the development and welfare of the metropolis, they just want to shrug off their responsibilities and abandon it. The Sindh government tends to shift blame on the local government and the local administration accuses the PPP of snatching all powers from the municipal administration, concentrating it into the hands of provincial ministers and officials.

This tussle has added to the woes of people who have been facing a myriad of problems and have no one to complain to. Many critics believe that since Karachi has always been a centre of opposition parties, successive governments have ignored its development and welfare. During the time of Ayub Khan it stood with Mohtarma Fatima Jinnah. The city also faced the wrath of Bhutto for siding with the JUP, JI and other right-wing parties. Zia's dictatorship further poisoned the city by encouraging ethnic, religious and sectarian parties to take over the metropolis. The scourge of Kalashnikov and drugs promoted by the Zia administration further complicated the city. In later decades, land mafia and other criminal groups also used their muscle to claim their pound of flesh from the city's scarce resources, leading to more conflicts and tensions.

But it seems that the residents of city were never as helpless as they feel today. At least at that time they would not have to pay exorbitant bills. Water would be scarce in a few areas but most of the city would receive water on a regular basis. The phenomenon of a water mafia was almost non-existent. The Karachi Development Authority would launch housing schemes off and on, providing an opportunity to low-income people to buy plots at reasonable rates and build houses. The sanitation of the city was not in a shambles either. The city was spacious brimming with a number of cricket, football and hockey clubs. And ethnic tensions were not as intense as during the time of Zia and in later decades.

But it seems the city has now become a hub of hardships, miseries and difficulties. Most of its residents did not receive enough water to meet their requirements during Ramazan and even during the Eid holidays. The scarcity of water did not only lead to quarrels in several parts of working class areas but also badly damaged the infrastructure of the city. One can hardly come across any road or street that has not been dug up multiple times by residents to get a water connection. The areas that used to receive water daily now happen to get it once in a week or in some areas once in a month. It is strange that water is not available in normal supply lines but if you have money then it is just a call away.

Sceptics believe that there is a close link between the scarcity of water and the mushrooming of private mineral water companies, soda companies and unbridled housing societies. If mineral water companies can make tons of money after spending a paltry amount on water filtration, why can the government not filter water and supply it to residents at a reasonable and affordable price? Many fear that if the government does not take urgent action to ensure a regular supply of water, the city may descend into chaos.

Despite the phenomenal growth of high-rise buildings in the city during the last 15 years, millions of residents are still living in slums that are now being threatened by capital-intensive mega projects. The local authorities have not come up with any concrete housing scheme. The arrival of private housing projects is believed to have caused the failure of government housing schemes. The reason is simple: if a government scheme sells out a five-marla house for a few thousands and the private entity is selling the same piece of land for two million rupees then where would the public go? It is obvious that they would go for cheaper options, denting the business of private housing magnets. So, critics believe the private housing companies in connivance with government officials hatched a conspiracy to fail such government projects.

The city infrastructure is also in a shambles. While billions of rupees are being pumped in capital-intensive projects, very little is being spent on sanitation, road networks, hospitals, dispensaries, parks and educational institutions. The few parks of the city wear a deserted look. The local administration complains of shortage of funds while the Sindh government blames the MQM-led city government for the situation. The city transport system is also pathetic with hundreds of buses and coaches plying without proper fitness certificates. After pumping billions of rupees on roads, underpasses and overhead bridges, citizens ended up travelling in chinchi rickshaws. Instead of investing several billions into mega projects, if the government had invested a couple of billions into the improvement of existing roads and in new buses, many of the city's transport woes would have been addressed.

It seems that Karachi's residents are at the mercy of imposters. Thousands of people have been rendered homeless on the pretext of court orders but no official in the administration is trying to trace the people who prepared fake documents of houses, minting money from innocent poor people and allowing them to encroach upon state land. Similarly, hundreds of private housing schemes launched several projects, received money from ordinary citizens and then fled the country.

In the past, the policies of the MQM and other ethnic parties added to the woes of the city; now it is the federalist PPP that is creating alienation among ethnic groups, which could lead to any disaster in the future. What the PPP needs to remember is that Karachi is a multi-national city. It is the largest urban center of the Pakhtuns, and the Mohajirs are still the single largest ethnic community in the metropolis. Millions of Punjabis, Baloch, Seraikis, Hindko-speakers and Sindhis are also residing here.

Therefore, it is important that the PPP prove that it is really a federal party and invites all the stakeholders of the city so that everyone can sit together to discuss the myriad of problems that the metropolis of Karachi faces. Only this way will they be able to come up with a comprehensive plan to address these issues. The sooner this is done, the better it will be for all.

The writer is a freelance journalist.

Email: [email protected]

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