Tariq Majeed, 50, who manages a medium-scale business in Lahore, is a worried man these days. The reason is that the military state office has issued notices to hundreds of schools in Cantonment to pack up and move. The owners of these schools have been given only two weeks to vacate the premises, as it is illegal to carry out commercial activity in residential areas.
Many of these schools have been there for decades, and they enjoy a good reputation in terms of the quality of education they impart. Secondly, these schools are preferred by people for their children because Cantt is a reasonably secure area.
“I’m not sure where I’ll be shifting my children if all the schools here are closed,” says Majeed, ruefully. He lives in a joint family system, in a house inherited from his father.
Arif Ali, who works with a real estate company in Defence Housing Authority (DHA), says the decision might be good but the question is why these were allowed to be set up in the first place. “These schools were properly registered and have been paying the applicable taxes on a regular basis.”
Ali also deals in properties in Lahore Cantonment, and says that proximity to good schools is a foremost consideration for people. “For the last few days, I’m being constantly quizzed by my clients whether this decision will be imposed forcefully or there will be a way out,” he says. “These people were looking for rented properties in the area but now they are reconsidering it.”
To properly understand the issue, one must have the context. The Lahore Cantonment Board (LCB) officials say that the notices have been served because the Supreme Court of Pakistan (SCP), on October 24, 2017, issued orders in a 15-year-old case between two parties, and directed to shift schools from the residential areas. Interestingly, the litigants belonged to Rawalpindi Cantonment. In the light of the decision, around 45 cantonments in the country are being cleared of schools set up there.
Kashif Mirza, President, All Pakistan Private Schools Federation (APPSF), tells TNS, “We respect the SCP. But in this case, the issue is that there is no guideline or alternative plan given for the affected schools.
“The plea these schools are taking is that a case between two individuals has been used as a ground for shifting thousands of private schools established in cantt areas all over the country. The private schools are planning to approach the court with a plea that they were not heard in this case and, therefore, did not get a chance to tell their side of story.”
According to Mirza, there are around 1,600 schools in Lahore Cantonment; “they have no idea where and how will they relocate, will any of their students be keen to shift, and how will they manage huge amounts required for this relocation and starting from scratch.”
All this leads to the basic concept of urban planning and zoning which, if done properly, could help issues like the one mentioned above. Ahmed Rafay Alam, a lawyer with a special interest in urban development studies, believes the lack of coordination between multiple organisations is responsible for city planning and leads to problems.
Explaining his point, he says that the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), DHA, and LCB have their own sets of rules and bylaws that will lead to confusion if there is a lack of coordination among them.
Citing an example, he says the DHA has been developed in a way that a large number of people coming in from the central city must pass through cantt. Keeping in view that there is a high concentration of cars per household in DHA, one can imagine the volume of the traffic that has to pass through cantt. “What if one day we find there is a ban on vehicular traffic passing through cantt to reach other locations? This is happening in Quetta Cantonment where entry is highly restricted,” he adds.
Arshad Rafiq, Team Leader, Sustainable Cities, Lead Pakistan, seconds Alam about cities in Pakistan controlled by different agencies and not by the municipal government in totality. He says that Lahore has a notified master plan which is the property of the municipal corporation but there are breaches made by the government agencies such as the LCB as well as private developers and individual property owners.
“The single use zoning or seclusion of different areas is an outdated concept,” he says. “Modern urbanism promotes mixed use zoning where everything is at a walkable distance — be they schools or markets etc.”
He goes on to say that zoning is done without planning in Pakistan and change of land use from agriculture to residential or commercial or industrial is done reactively.
The physical infrastructure is not aligned with the requirements of new land use and zoning, so the problems of traffic, parking and services crop up. The present decision of the cantonment board, Rafiq says, is an example but the solution is not appropriate as it will result in further sprawl and transportation requirements for schooling of children.
“The need of the time is that every responsible agency sticks to the master plan, and the municipal government’s capacity to improve and implement master plan is enhanced. Horizontal growth should be discouraged and vertical growth with mixed use land encouraged. This will make the city organic and help control the sprawl.”
He also suggests that as a damage-control exercise, “there is a need to revitalise the city centre and business districts of Lahore. They were traditionally mixed use areas but due to unplanned growth have pushed residents to far off places, which has resulted in increased need of transportation and more and more cars. Above all there is a need for the government to exercise greater control and play its role in city growth which is currently in the hands of private developers.”
Rafiq asserts that cities are not meant for segregation; they must promote interaction. Hence, proper zoning is a must if the government means to increase people to people interaction.
Besides urban planning principles, he says, the educationists also think that schools, especially primary schools, must be at a walking distance so that children’s time and energy are not wasted in traffic and transportation.