KARACHI: “Even if this city gets over the terrorist attacks, it will still see conflicts,” said architect and town planner Arif Hasan at the start of his presentation on ‘Karachi’s demographic shift and its relation to civic strife’ at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs here on Wednesday.
The issues of Karachi were related to the lack of planning, it was pointed out. The architect, with the help of various maps, showed how unbalanced the city is in terms of population settlements. For instance, areas such as Lyari are densely-populated while Defence and Clifton have far fewer people in comparison. “Densification is also responsible for our losing our heritage,” he said.
Things, according to Mr Hasan, got from bad to worse but they weren’t so bad in the beginning. “The government took a brave initiative in 1952 by asking a Swedish company to plan the city of Karachi and they came up with the MRV Plan with railroads, etc, linking up all the areas to the city’s main core. But the same year there were riots at the university and it was decided that the federal capital should not be near the university.” The refugees, who also took part in the riots, were to be kept at arm’s length and the MRV Plan was shelved.
Then in 1960, Field Marshal Ayub Khan got the Doxides Plan, which saw ethnic divide such as low-income Urdu-speaking people going to live in one area, Sindhis and Pathans in others. But the plan failed although it started the division of the poor areas from the rich in Karachi.
So instead of making housing schemes for the poor it was decided to just regulate the katchi abadis and make housing secure for the people there. The 1978 Katchi Abadi Act was a good thing this way but there was no money to upgrade the houses. The 4,000 goths, too, were said to be regularised through the Gothabad Scheme which also couldn’t really happen so they also didn’t get the institutional facilities that were to be given to them after that. Over 150,000 plots were developed but not really handed over to the deserving.
Arif Hasan explained how the poor started being pushed to the outskirts of the city as the main city started being taken over by the rich. For instance, in the regularised katchi abadis those who owned houses were given offers to sell them by developers. Doing so they moved away to the outskirts or periphery but there they were without facilities. To work they had to come back to the city. The children had their schools here, too, and travelling on a day-to-day basis became an issue. People were spending 20 to 30 per cent of their earnings on fare.
“With that came other problems such as fathers leaving their homes early to reach their places of work on time and then coming back home late in the evenings due to the long distances they had to travel. Some 1,500 women worked as domestic servants in big houses in Defence, Clifton or Gulshan and their lives were disrupted, too, this way. This way the poor became poorer and there were no chances of upward mobility among them,” he said.
“There was no circular railway, no green buses. The poor started preferring to buy motorcycles on loans or travel by Qingqi or rickshaws while adding to the traffic congestion of the city.
“There was further densification of the existing settlements as the youngsters moved back to their places of origin within the city. Old friendly neighbourhoods with small ground-floor cottages in little colonies and regularised katchi abadis were torn down and in their place were built these congested multistory units of five to 10 stories with six to seven people sharing the rent for single rooms. Of course these building had no lifts, adding to the woes of the aged. Then all floors didn’t even have separate kitchens or bathrooms bringing up further issues,” he said.
“So how can you find peace in a city with so many problems?”