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September 20, 2019

Recommendations and committees

Opinion

September 20, 2019

As if the federal government hasn’t already got a plate full of problems – having to revive a stagnant economy, reform broken-down and dysfunctional systems of governance and address serious foreign policy and security issues created by the Modi government’s unconstitutional and illegal acts in IOK – it has now dragged itself into another quagmire in Karachi.

Several senior legal experts have all rejected the idea that Article 149(4) could be stretched by any means to cover federal takeover of cities and towns in Pakistan and start running their day-to-day administration. And why just garbage collection Tomorrow, the water supply or transport or any other excuse can also be used for a federal takeover of Lahore, Peshawar, Quetta or other the cities and towns across Pakistan. This leaves one wondering how such a harebrained idea managed to pass through the filters of decision-making in the federal government, and arrive in public space and create such a backlash against the government?

In addition to its illegality, nobody seems to have considered the idea of a federal takeover of the city from the management perspective. With such federally administered national embarrassments like PIA, Pakistan Steel Mills, Pakistan Railways and others which have been sinkholes of corruption and inefficiency, eating away hundreds of billions of public money for years and which the government has been trying to offload since long, can the federal government micromanage the additional responsibility of day-to-day running of a large metropolis like Karachi from Islamabad?

Prime Minister Imran Khan has rightly been talking about the urgent need for the depoliticization of administration. Instead of working for the good of the people, much of the administrative machinery – at the federal, provincial and much more so at the local bodies levels – has been reduced to working as the personal or political extension of this or that party. The most notorious example of this culture are the tens of thousands of what is called ghost staff – cleaners, clerks, teachers and others drawing salaries from public funds but whom nobody ever saw attending to their official duties. PM Khan’s programme of cleaning the stables of administrative machinery should start with eradicating the menace of ghost staff to immediately lift up the working of departments at all levels.

The civic problems of Karachi are real and everyone should work towards solving them. But playing politics with people’s problems is not going to solve them. The political tug of war will only compound problems and make their solutions more intractable. In trying to address the civic problems of Karachi, it should be noted that the origin of the factors causing flooding and rain associated problems lies outside the bounds of the city – in the catchment areas of Malir and Lyari rivers in the Khirthar Mountains. The causes of the problems and their likely solutions have also been studied earlier by technical and administrative professionals from federal, provincial and local bodies. The problems have always remained in implementation as is explained below.

One of the most well researched and detailed study of civic problems of Karachi was made earlier by a high-powered technical committee of the government, which was headed by a very respected technical expert Mr A W Shaikh who at the time was adviser technical/ addl chief secretary of the Sindh government. This committee comprised senior professionals of the federal, provincial and local governments including Wapda, P&D and the irrigation and power departments of the Sindh government as well as KDA, KMC, KPT, Cantonment Board, SITE, Meteorological Department, PAF and other agencies and departments. This writer, then working as DG KDA, was also a member of this committee.

The committee conducted surveys, monitored and collected hydraulic data, took notice of quarrying, dumping of garbage and solid waste in river beds which reduced the quantum of water passing within their embankments, unauthorized and illegal constructions along rivers and the nullahs which further choked the flow of water and recommended measures for properly addressing the civic problems of Karachi.

These measures required medium-to-long-term continuity in their implementation to produce the desired results. But financial constraints, and politics and mafias protected by parties often came in the way of their implementation. In the meantime, as the population exploded by birth and migration and encroachments multiplied with mafia protection, the civic problems also increased, thereby becoming more intractable.

I mention some major recommendations of the high-powered technical committee in this space so that people can judge for themselves that much success would have been achieved long ago and people’s miseries reduced, if these well-thought-out recommendations had been faithfully implemented.

Some of the major recommendations of this high-powered technical committee included: a full-fledged Karachi Flood Control project comprising flood forecasting, flood protection and flood control measures. It also recommended that the Malir Dam upstream of Malir river be constructed to control flood waters reaching the city.

These measures were to be further supplemented by the Karachi Urban Sector Water Drainage Project whose components would address inner-city drainage issues. The two components would dovetail to provide full protection from floods and rain water damage. Progress on these and other recommendations was to be periodically monitored by a Karachi Flood Control and Drainage Commission with senior-level representatives from federal, provincial and local organizations.

These recommendations have largely remained unimplemented and although substantial funds were made available over the years, these were mostly used for construction of roads, flyovers and other activities. In the meantime, flooding and drainage problems grew from bad to worse until we arrived at the miseries inflicted upon the people by recent monsoon rains and flooding.

There is no need to reinvent the wheel. With appropriate updating where necessary, these thoroughly researched and technically sound recommendations should now be implemented.

A high-powered Karachi Flood Control and Drainage Commission, headed by the chief minister of Sindh and comprising the relevant federal, provincial and local body representatives should be established with a clear mandate to monitor and coordinate the implementation of these recommendations through relevant organizations and provide a channel for mobilizing resources from the government, the private sector and outside agencies for their implementation.

This would provide real relief from recurring rains- and flood-related problems to the residents of Karachi. No takeover of anything by anybody is involved. Every organization can continue their assigned duties and functions.

The writer designed the Board of Investment and the First Women’s Bank.

Email: [email protected]

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