Residential areas used to be peaceful, before Lahore Development Authority (LDA)’s “business-friendly” commercialisation policy initiative changed things.
LDA’s purpose was obviously to make profits. But, for the poor residents, it meant multiple problems — of parking, traffic, noise and air pollution, and what not.
LDA classified two types of roads in Lahore: the first was allowed to go commercial on a “permanent” basis, while the other was declared “frozen.” The problem arose when the authority allowed temporary (for up to a year) commercial activity on the frozen roads.
Reportedly, 18 of the city’s major roads, which were declared frozen, have seen commercialisation, albeit of temporary nature, in the past. These include Tollinton Market Road (LOS Chowk to Jail Road junction), Campus Bridge Road, Shah Jillani Road (College Road, Township till Hamdard, Jail Road); Khayaban-e-Jinnah (Shaukat Khanum to Raiwind Road); Link Raiwind Road (Raiwind Road to Aitchison College Gate); Main Boulevard, Johar Town/Khayaban-e-Firdousi (Maulana Shaukat Ali Road to Shaukat Khanum Hospital), and Defence Road (Multan Road to Raiwind Road).
Under the temporary commercialisation policy, anyone could convert any property into a commercial venture, after getting No Objection Certificate (NOC) from their neighbourhood and paying heavy fees to the authority. This resulted in extraordinary increase in the value of land/properties. As a former town planning officer at LDA puts it, “It reduced the value of designated commercial areas in LDA’s own schemes also, and a majority of these are still lying vacant.”
LDA has finally decided to ban temporary (annual) commercialisation on the said 18 roads. It plans to direct the owners of the buildings on these roads to wind up their businesses before June 30, 2018 and return the premises to their original building plans.
Sadly, however, the damage is done. Parking, for instance, is a huge issue, especially at peak hours. A visit to these roads reveals that they remain clogged from 7 to 9 in the morning and, a little later, from 12 noon till 3pm, because the educational institutions here have no parking spaces or drop lanes. Between 9-11am and 5-7pm there is massive traffic on these roads, because of the many offices and other commercial activity.
Clearly, LDA’s town planners overlooked the implementation of building bylaws when allowing conversion of residential buildings into commercial plazas, which resulted in massive traffic jams. Vehicles parked irresponsibly on the roads badly affect the traffic momentum and prove to be a nuisance for daily commuters.
The said 18 roads have commercial businesses worth billions of rupees running. A strong reaction from the traders’ community is expected, in case the LDA gets tough on them.
But this is mere a façade, sources reveal, and the authority is not going to take any action because this is the election year and any such adventure could cause a serious political setback to the PML-N.
LDA DG Zahid Zaman rejects the notion, saying that even under temporary commercialisation the owners were never allowed to alter the original building designs. But, “in majority of cases, this was violated. We intend to deal with the issue strongly,” he tells TNS.
Zaman asserts that the authority shall not bow before any pressure and withdraw its action plan: “LDA wants to end its temporary commercialisation policy. In order to achieve this, we shall soon put forth amendments to the related laws.
“Temporary is temporary,” he insists, “and LDA has the right to change that.”
On the other hand, the traders and business community have strongly criticised what they are calling LDA’s turnaround. Khurram Javed, owner of a restaurant on an important road in Johar Town, says he invested millions of rupees in setting up his outlet and would not let it be razed to the ground.
Owners of marriage halls, marquees, and kiosks have expressed similar views. Their point of view is that the action would harm the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of workers and their families associated with these businesses.
Interestingly, LDA might not be as firm as projected. Insiders say the authority can’t even shut down a restaurant that was opened without approval opposite LDA headquarters in Johar Town, let alone take action against the rampant illegal commercialisation. Repeated drives against commercial structures and housing societies, launched over the last one year, seem to be just eyewash. Earlier, LDA is said to have sealed a bakery on PECO Road that had been opened without approval, and reverted the decision within the next hour or so, as the business was linked to the female family member of a high-profile government officer.