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Awful planning, dreadful execution

Huzaima Bukhari & Dr. Ikramul Haq

“In a quality city, a person should be able to live their entire life without a car, and not feel deprived.”—Paul Bedfrod

Many of the towns and cities, especially in the Third World countries, are in a constant state of development and expansion. This involves much planning, thinking and executing with precision, various projects intended to facilitate the public while also aesthetically improving the urban look. A visit to Kuala Lumpur would show what modern development means but only the locals can tell you how much inconvenience they had to bear during the work process. Now when everything has been accomplished no one probably remembers those bad days because the end result has brought about qualitative improvement in their lives. Same holds true for cities like Singapore, Manila, Jakarta and even New Delhi. One thing is noticeable in these cities and that is the element of long-term planning. This means that a project, whether it is related to roads, buildings, shopping centres, residential localities or office blocks, is so designed to cater for at least fifty years ahead and not meant for a year or two years.

Lahore is one city in Pakistan that has been made the experimental ground for whimsical, ridiculous plans that are not only ill-timed but are obnoxiously being executed rendering the lives of millions of dwellers in this city, absolutely miserable. An aerial view of the city especially during peak hours would reveal the extent of mismanagement, chaos, indiscipline and maladministration prevailing under the supervision of supposedly a hard task master—self-styled Khadim-i-Ala (grand servant). One must ‘appreciate’ his timings of simultaneous construction of roads, overheads and underpasses just when all the educational institutions have opened up after almost three months long holidays. One wonders, why the relatively slow, hot and dry period of vacations was not utilized to accomplish these projects. It appears that contractors were merely waiting for the public to bring their vehicles on the roads before embarking upon their tortuously retarded speed of work.

All main arteries have been up-rooted carelessly without providing alternate routes or diversions. Nothing appears in the newspapers or television to fore-warn the public about road or traffic conditions, or even to apologize for inconveniences what to talk of giving a deadline for their misery. At the same time one cannot help admire our zinda dilan-i-Lahore (lively Lahorites) who brave through all these tortures with remarkable show of patience with the imprudent administrative agencies. They maneuver their way through all kinds of obstacles and traffic jams in a way that one is reminded of the popular game of dodgem cars where there is no regard for rules or consideration for others. To make matters worse, the elite squad of traffic wardens seems busier in nabbing innocent bikers rather than attending to their principal responsibility of restoring order on the roads. Their attitude smacks of high-handedness and utter disconnection with their duties for which they are paid.

Any new scheme can only be successful when it is conceived by sensible planners, who can perceive not only all its pros and cons but can also judge its implications for those who would be affected by its implementation. For example, while broadening the Samsani Road in Johar Town Phase I, the Gujjars having large herds of buffaloes were not relocated, with the result that their animals grazing freely in the area have become a source of potential threat to the safety of road users.

Another act of sheer callousness has been displayed towards those unfortunate thriving business houses that were forced under the network of flyovers all over the city. Instead of moving them to proper commercial centres in their close vicinity, a number of traders were left with no option but to close down their concerns and migrate to start their businesses afresh. It really does not matter to the planners how these people make their ends meet or what difficulty they might have had to face in resettling.

In civilized countries, towns have been planned keeping in view conditions that could be foreseen in the next few decades. Consequently one does not get to see new buildings or residential locales mushrooming in and around these towns. Those areas that were declared residential remain so for umpteenth number of years and the cities retain their grandeur as well as character. Regulations with respect to new projects and maintenance of existing ones are strictly enforced and deviance is taken seriously. Local residents are taken into confidence in case of introducing something new and their feedback is given much importance. Where something remains undecided, a referendum helps to resolve the crisis. Any violation of law, in terms of encroachment or building rules, is met with stringent measures and no one is allowed to benefit on account of having political connections or affiliations with those in power. A person returning to any of these cities even after many years finds himself at home.

The converse is true about our country and more so about Lahore. A person who was in Lahore, say in the year 1998, would find himself lost in this concrete jungle as of today. Perhaps the home of his relative in New Garden Town where he may have stayed is converted into a marriage hall. The restaurant he once visited could be a multi-storied shopping mall or the huge span of open ground where he enjoyed some cricket matches may now be a gated housing colony. Paying tribute to Data Sahib could be more of a shock than a soothing spiritual experience with the Bhatti Gate area completely toppled over in a most undesirable fashion, ripping apart the age-old character of that part of the city. All this because we never sit down to think collectively, take the local residents into confidence or to elicit suggestions/feedback regarding new developments. We are victims of a democratic dictatorship where one man orders and his henchmen (chamchas) in the form of condescending bureaucrats, are quick to nod in assent to all sorts of wishes of ‘his highness’ whom they dare not defy for fear of detrimental consequences.

We have been vehemently writing that broadening roads is not the only solution. Improving public transport along with public awareness needs to be addressed before embarking upon any developmental plan. When the public is properly educated; imparting and inculcating ability in them to treat national assets as their own, then it is never difficult to set in motion any kind of public sector service. It is earnestly hoped that sanity would prevail and our so-called elected representatives become more sensitive to public inconvenience and traffic hazards resulting from their incoherent and impulsive approach towards development of the city. They must remember that it is not their own money but that of the taxpayers which is used to raise finance and where loans are acquired, the same would have to be paid back with interest, again from the very same taxpayers’ pockets.


The writers, lawyers and authors, are visiting Professors at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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