Can the crises laid bare by the recent rains in Karachi be overcome?
The Rs 1.1. trillion Karachi Transformation Plan (KTP) has gotten off to a bad start as federal and Sindh ministers continue to squabble over its details.
When Prime Minister Imran Khan visited the city on September 5 and announced the plan in the presence of Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, it rekindled hopes of the Karachi residents who have borne the brunt of torrential rains. However, the familiar political bickering resumed within hours of his speech.
The same evening, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto claimed that Sindh was contributing the lion’s share of the funds. The federal government disputed the claim next morning, insisting that it would contribute 62 percent of the funds.
On September 8, Federal Information Minister Shibli Faraz said that the trouble was PPP people “cannot calculate beyond 10pc.” He said they could not be trusted with development funds. Murtaza Wahab, the Sindh government spokesman, fired back by accusing the federal government of giving Karachi peanuts in the name of KTP. “Out of the Rs 1.1 trillion allocated for KTP, the Centre will provide only Rs 362 billion. The remaining amount would be spent by the Sindh government,” he said.
Talking to The News on Sunday, several federal and Sindh ministers, however, sounded optimistic about overcoming these differences to implement the ambitious plan.
“We are heading in the right direction and work is in progress without a major problem,” Federal Minister Asad Umar told The News on Sunday. “Except for the Karachi Circular Railway, there is no conflict with the Sindh government. I have no problem if the Sindh government completes the KCR project, but in its order the Supreme Court of Pakistan has asked the Ministry of Railways or the federal government to oversee the revival of the KCR,” Umar says. “The Sindh government or the Sindh CM can approach the SC. If the apex court issues such a directive [for them], I will be the happiest person,” the minister says.
Following the PM’s visit, a high-level committee was formed to oversee the KTP. It comprises Federal Ministers Asad Umer, Ali Zaidi and Aminul Haq, Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and Provincial Ministers Saeed Ghani and Nasir Hussain Shah. However, it has not held a meeting so far.
“The committee has not met, but not because of any conflict. It will only meet if required. Otherwise, the Provincial Implementation Committee will look after the progress,” Asad Umar says.
Talking to The News on Sunday, Sindh Minister Nasir Shah says they have already started implementation of the plan as far as storm drain system and the drive against encroachments are concerned.
“The work is already in progress. We have marked the areas which need to be cleaned and are sorting out plans for settling people who had occupied the encroached land,” he says.
He too says the six-member committee has not met since the PM’s visit. “We are in touch with one another over the progress. The provincial committees have already started their work. All those who matter are on board and I am confident that if the federal and provincial governments show seriousness, you may see a significant change in a year’s time,” Shah adds.
Political considerations have often hijacked plans for Karachi’s uplift in the past. It is important that the issue of empowering local bodies be addressed by the PPP, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P).
The mega city, despite being multi-ethnic, has always been seen through a narrow mindset. This has further complicated the issues. In 2013, the PPP-led Sindh government amended the Local Bodies Act, 2001, to give itself unprecedented civic powers in the city. The three-way conflict between the Centre, Sindh and the city government is the biggest hurdle in the way of addressing Karachi’s problems.
The Sindh CM has already stated that the local bodies elections are not possible according to the delimitations done under the 1998 Census. So, the controversy over the results of the 2017 Census also needs to be addressed first. The matter is before the SC, as MQM-P and some other parties have challenged the census results to the extent of Karachi.
The PTI, which has 14 MNAs and 22 MPAs from Karachi, has become the city’s major representative party. The confusion, controversy and disinterest in ‘owning’ Karachi is rooted in the ‘political divide‘ between urban and rural Sindh. The mega city, despite being multi-ethnic, has always been seen through a narrow mindset. This has further complicated the issues. In 2013, the PPP-led Sindh government amended the Local Bodies Act, 2001, to give itself unprecedented civic powers in the city. The three-way conflict between the Centre, Sindh and the city government is the biggest hurdle in the way of addressing Karachi’s problems. Since 2011, the Supreme Court of Pakistan also started playing a role in addressing the city’s problems.
To make matters worse, several mafias have consolidated their hold on government land and delivery of civic amenities such as water supply and electricity. The recent murder of two officials at the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) offices points to the growing influence of the land mafia in the government ranks. It is because of this land mafia that no mega project has been completed in Karachi.
Experts believe that Karachi has no inherent shortage of potable water. They say the problem lies in its distribution. This is caused by a mafia that sells water at Rs 3,000 to Rs 6,000 per tanker.
When it comes to the city’s drains, there are 38 major nullahs (storm drains) and over 500 minor ones. Both the provincial and city governments failed to clean them before the monsoon season, resultantly almost the whole city was inundated. The SC then had to ask the National Disaster Management Authority to clear these drains.
As far as the status of Karachi is concerned, the PPP-led Sindh government has been trying to bring it under its direct control. When the party took power following the 2013 elections, it replaced the Police Order, 2002, with the Police Order 1861. Later, the 2002 law was revived under court orders.
Today, Karachi is a city spanning over six districts. It has several civic agencies and authorities. It is a city with 8,000 katchi abadis in which nearly five million people live.
Prime Minister Imran Khan should take decisions about Karachi after holding meaningful consultation with all stakeholders. Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmad can also club all the pending petitions on civic issues together and decide those on an urgent basis.
The following are some recommendations for dealing with Karachi’s problems: First of all, the Karachi Transformation Plan can only be successful if it revives the circular railway and other mass transit projects. Second, all stakeholders should accept that the city has to be administered by a single authority. The city government and its mayor must get the status and powers similar to those enjoyed by their counterparts in other megacities around the world. All the civic agencies must be answerable to the mayor, who may be directly elected. There is also a need for a strong accountability mechanism to root out corruption from civic departments. A fresh population census is also needed in Karachi.
Karachi lacks a viable public transport system. In the ’80s, Japanese experts had suggested 8,000 large sized buses instead of mini buses in the city. After 30 years, the city now requires far more buses. More incentives will have to be given to private bus owners and taxi services. Most city roads need expansion that can only be made possible if encroachments are removed. It is time to look into the housing sector in Karachi, as hundreds and thousands of apartments and commercial and residential plazas have been built without basic amenities.
Karachi should have its own metropolitan police. The city also needs more industrial zones as the current three are inadequate to meet its growing needs. The military establishment should also review the policy of setting up cantonment boards and housing schemes as any irregularity in such matters can affect their reputation. Also, the PM, in consultation with the Sindh CM and the city mayor, should form an apex committee to oversee development projects.
Lastly, the biggest stakeholder in the city’s matters, its people, have been consistently ignored by both the federal and provincial governments. It is time to listen to what they want. If such steps are taken, there is still a glimmer a hope for Karachi to be restored as Pakistan’s city of lights.
The writer is a senior columnist and analyst for GEO, The News and Jang. He tweets @MazharAbbasGEO