A master document

May 1, 2022

Dr Ajaz Anwar discusses the Master Plan for Lahore, 2050, with Muhammad Jawed, a noted town planner and housing specialist

— Image: Supplied
— Image: Supplied


larmed by the news of the Master Plan for Lahore, 2050, I consulted many people on the subject — and also my common sense. Muhammad Jawed struck me foremost. The first fine arts graduate from the upgraded National College of Arts (NCA), Jawed specialised in urban and regional studies from MIT, focusing on the developing countries, and majored in city planning. Later, he worked as a town planner and housing specialist for two decades. He is also a senior member of the Lahore Conservation Society (LCS).

I decided to interview him on the Master Plan for Lahore, 2050, for which the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) had invited public comments. Jawed shared his frank opinions and comments, and allowed me to use them freely in my write-up.

According to Jawed, a master plan is a very important document as metropolitan Lahore is fast expanding horizontally without caring for the quality of the land and essential requirements like infrastructure and civic amenities. A large number of private and public housing schemes have sprung up on fertile land, yet since long most of these are lying undeveloped. Therefore, including more agricultural land in the expansion of the city till 2050 is not advisable, especially when the city may resultantly face food scarcity.

At present, Lahore faces air pollution, traffic congestion, insufficient infrastructure and potable water, poor arrangement of sewerage disposal and rainwater harvesting. There’s a dire need to apply a rational approach to finalising the master plan for this World Heritage-standard city. The starting point should be to evaluate what exists and protect it from decay. The list of protected buildings under the Punjab Special Premises (Preservation) Ordinance, 1985, should be updated and any demolition should be subject to grant of an NOC by a competent team.

The city, which was once only for the pedestrians, should be made safe for those walking or cycling. It’s noted that many GOR bungalows on the Mall have built a peripheral wall by occupying the footpaths. All green cover comprising parks and trees should be fiercely protected by the civil society. Unfortunately, wide powers have been bestowed upon LDA officials. Not all of them are up to this gigantic task. It can take quick action by using the now outdated tools or powers, namely:

LDA Act, 1975

LDA (Amendment) Act, 2013

LDA Master Plan Rules, 2014

LDA Land Use Rules, 2014 and 2020

LDA Land Use Regulations, 2020

LDA Private Housing Scheme Rules, 2014

LDA Bylaws for Housing, 2021

Although there is a provision in the LDA Master Plan Rules, 2014, for public participation, the Authority’s scrutiny committee examines the public views and has the power to overrule the suggestions.

It has also been mentioned in the draft that the LDA will draft the master plan comprising provisions for peri-urban structure, regional economic development, land use, short- and long-term projects, institutional framework, and financial plan, according to the approved rules for the preparation of the master plan. Hence, it is hard for the public and private professionals to contribute to it.

Item Number 1 of the public notice indicates that the LDA is in the process of preparing a master plan for Lahore Division, whereas a draft for only Lahore city has been published. Lahore Division consists of four districts, namely Kasur, Lahore, Nankana Sahib, and Sheikhupura. Each city has a different development character due to their peculiar socio-economic and political conditions. Therefore, a rational approach is needed to adopt decentralisation policies focusing on encouraging agriculture sector and facilitating villages and small towns to enhance their potential. The preparation of a master plan for each city with integrated key map would be useful for development as well as to establish strong linkages for economic growth which would require decentralisation of the institutions as well.

The vision supported by the five pillars in Item Number 3 — vibrant environment, sustainability, preserved heritage, balanced economy and inclusiveness — is important for master plans. However, security arrangements to handle a law and order situation have not been considered. Besides, it is advisable to look into the latest trends in cities in both the developed and developing countries of the world. This is an age of global information and digital transformation. Technology is changing across the world and has radically changed the way the cities are organised and built. These central digital systems are becoming more efficient as they involve sensors, computer intelligence and transportation technologies to address economy, social inclusiveness, climate challenges and manmade pollution of all kinds affecting the health and lives of humans and the flora and fauna.

Although it is appreciable that the LDA thought of preparing the draft master plan, it is not possible for the stakeholders and general public to check zoning and land use properly even from the plan given on the LDA website, because of the merging colours and unclear boundaries. Demographic figures (zone-wise) and household sizes are also unclear. The Walled City, the existing city and the proposed expansion to absorb projected population need better demarcation.

Similarly, the indication of fertile and semi-fertile as well as abandoned land, green vegetation, open areas and public amenities which fall under the ambit of the master plan are not clear.

Several commercial and industrial projects launched earlier are lying idle. Economic and financial plans have not been found in the master plan. The RUDA — that is, the Ravi Urban Development Authority — is not feasible either, as has been discussed in a previous column (dated July 25, 2021).

The locals have formed groups to resist any attempt to deprive them of their livelihood. Their argument is that where will the millions of cattle go? Fish, poultry, vegetables, and corn produce could become extinct from this most fertile area of the Punjab. Therefore, a strict policy is needed which disallows the use of the fertile land for housing schemes or any other projects in the name of development.

These shortfalls restrict public engagement in the proposed master plan which is extremely important to provide conceptual guidelines for future growth and development with linkages of to social settings and their environments. Along with the basic characteristics, a master plan for a city ought to consider physical, social and economic environment to make recommendations for accommodating population, economy, transportation, community facilities and so on, based on the national urbanisation policies and strategies for distribution of economic activities. Efforts are made to reduce inequalities and disparities in the region.

This region developed the concept of town planning, as is evident from the Indus Valley settlements. The grid-iron planning with primary and secondary lanes cutting at right angles with bevelled corners and covered sewerage, water supply through private and community wells, and storage of larger quantity in the Great Bath, with steps descending with dead-level reserves is most advanced a model for the millennia to come. This linear thoroughfare planning later became the source of inspiration for the city for the automobile and later the auto strada.

(This dispatch is dedicated to Sir Bertrand Feilden, DG, Iccrom)

Note: Free Art classes, all ages and genders, are held every Sunday at the House of NANNAs.

The writer is a painter, the a founding member of Lahore Conservation Society and Punjab Artists Association, and the a former director of NCA Art Gallery. He can be reached at ajazart@brain.net.pk

A master document