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In the name of development

Despite a thriving real estate sector in Karachi, there is a total absence of any sane development control

In the name of development
Karachi is growing without any planning.

One of the most positive outcomes of the Rangers’ operation in Karachi has been the sharp decline in violent crimes including extortion. Citizens Police Liaison Committee (CPLC) informed that kidnappings for ransom reduced by 90 per cent and murders by 75 per cent in 2015 compared with the previous year.

Rise in real estate development marked an unprecedented episode. A study conducted by a real estate concern found that prices of plots measuring 500-250 square yards recorded a 25 per cent increase during 2015. Flow of cash from overseas and national investors has been the core reason.

While the property price adjustment policy, being contested between federal government and realtors, did cause some ripples, the trend continues. The downside of this development is the total collapse of any sane development control. High density high-rise development is swiftly devouring the low-rise bungalows and other forms of property.

One observes that serene neighbourhoods of North Nazimabad, PECHS and Federal B Area are becoming infested with ugly-looking match box-like apartment/mix use blocks. One fears whether all the prescriptions of safety, infrastructural performance, and design pre-requisites are adequately addressed.

Essentially, the process of development control evolves from master-planning exercises. The existence of a legally valid, up-to-date and technically sound master plan is a pre-requisite for enacting an appropriate development control mechanism. According to the standard process of planning, the city plan is prepared, updated or modified by the professional planners of the concerned planning agency. After a solution is reached, it is placed in public places for display in a bid to invite objections, comments or suggestions for improvement. Individuals and interest groups extend their feedback. This happens in various cycles.

Upon completion of this process, the master plan and its various guidelines are finalised. The society owns this process and its’ outcome due to the very fact that it considers itself to be a participant in its creation. The development control is prescribed by the same authority or its affiliates. Whenever and wherever any violation is detected, it is dealt with accordingly.

The society cooperates in this effort since it owns the whole process. This practice has remained absolutely absent from our working norms. Attempts to planning were made in the past through packaged consultancies without taking input from interest groups or stakeholders. Outcomes of these exercises were kept in cold storage. None of the planning outputs were notified or circulated for any kind of public feedback. The task of development control became all the more confounded in the final analysis.

Functions of development control are contended by several institutions at present. About a dozen agencies in Karachi that own and manage lands claim to have that prerogative. Conflicting laws and provisions add to this confusion. For instance, Sindh Building Control Authority which was created under the proviso of Sindh Building Control Ordinance 1979 considers itself to be the sole legally valid body to undertake this task.

Federally controlled and constituted bodies, such as Cantonment Boards have their own jurisdiction which stands unspoiled from the other local authorities. Similarly, other autonomous land owning agencies, such as public universities are not controlled by the conventional building control practices. The objectives, methods of operations and affiliations of various bodies are different from one another.

One authority discourages tall buildings for some time, the other issues permits to develop them unabated. In the same neighbourhood, different types of building profiles are found which create anomalies in real estate development, management and transactions. Gulistan-e-Jauhar, Saddar and Clifton are few locations that reflect this grave malpractice to a considerable extent.

Transparency in land transactions, development allocations and building permits is seldom found. Several factors contribute to this state of affairs. The land holdings of various public agencies are in disarray with no stock taking done for a sizable period of time. For instance, the land assets of Pakistan Railways are rampantly depleted due to encroachments which continue unabated. Since the land holding agency does not possess an efficient mechanism to guard against the encroachments, little action could be taken.

Some years ago, a housing scheme for such a cadre of officers was developed at what was conceived to be open land for the expansion of cricket stadium in Karachi. Certain interest groups are normally considered above the law and their exigencies are never regulated. The rampant construction of seminaries on graveyards and packlands in the city are examples.

At Tariq Road, a park plot now houses a giant mosque structure of several storeys. The process of obtaining building permits is also an affair marred by dubious practices. Common perception remains that if one greases the palm of the concerned staff at the right end, the file will run on rails without any objection.

Development control requires adequate professional capability at various levels. Understanding of building design, execution processes, construction/structural design codes, byelaws/regulations and steps of construction are few of the common requirements. Another major task is to understand the ground situation, reasons behind building offences, linkages and skills of communication. This is required for different cadres. From inspectors, building controllers to the chief executive, a specific type of background know how and qualifications are essential. Architects, civil engineers, town planners and diploma holders in the relevant field are normally desired for the job after some kind of basic training. This cadre is entirely deficient.

The human resource for this vital job is almost impossible to acquire. Honest and hard working professionals prefer to work in the private sector. They believe that in such agencies, favouritism and nepotism reign supreme. Whenever the building control functions will be organised at the town or union level, it shall be exceedingly difficult to motivate genuinely competent and qualified personnel to join these institutions for public service. The reporting mechanism is also non-existing in terms of land and development control.

Despite the enhancement in the technology, such as satellite photography/imagery or Geographic Information System (GIS), no annual report/study on the status of land use change, encroachments, densification or infrastructural situations. For municipal areas, the SBCA must be completely overhauled to exercise development control with insulation from political overtures and clandestine dictates from the regime.

It shall require a voluntary act from the federal and provincial governments to bolster the local authorities. SLGO 2013 must be amended to make room for Karachi Planning Agency that should be sufficiently empowered to prescribe development plans, enforcement mechanism and growth patterns through a consultative process. Master plans of 1974-1985 and 1986-2000 strongly recommended for this institutional shift. Newly elected Mayor of Karachi and the newly elevated Chief Minister of Sindh must collaborate on this much needed institutional intervention.

Dr Noman Ahmed

Noman Ahmed
The author is Chairperson of Department of Architecture and Planning at NED University, Karachi. He can be reached at nomaniconn@gmail.com

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