(Non)construction of Clifton flyover: Do two wrongs make a right?

Published June 21, 2014
A view of construction work in progress on the flyover a few months ago. The high-rise is seen in the background. — File photo
A view of construction work in progress on the flyover a few months ago. The high-rise is seen in the background. — File photo

Most of us have been taught since childhood that two wrongs do not make a right.

Of late, though, I have discovered that the above maxim (like most other “truths” that have been considered sacrosanct for a long time), is an utter falsehood in today’s world and particularly in today’s Pakistan.

Take, for instance, the example of this recently initiated disaster of a construction project in one of Karachi's landmark areas near the sea:

The Clifton flyover (along with its two complimentary underpasses) is located near the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi (the oldest Sufi shrine in Karachi), an ancient Hindu temple, a huge public park and (unfortunately for me), my own home as well.

I say 'unfortunately' because currently, the entire area looks nothing more than a graveyard of construction material; mounds of dug-up earth, concrete slabs and pipelines surrounded by whirling sand balls left by the thousands that commute daily on that route.

 Work currently lies abandoned, causing immense traffic problems for the area all around. — Photo by author
Work currently lies abandoned, causing immense traffic problems for the area all around. — Photo by author

Also read 'Incomplete Clifton project inconveniences commuters, residents'


Here's how that happened:

Some time ago, a private party was in the process of building a huge high-rise complex in the area. The project required a proper traffic management plan to handle the increase in traffic it would've led to.

So work on the Clifton flyover project began. The project was undertaken by the same private party (using its own resources) and with the approval of the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC).

The First Wrong: But construction work was initiated without following the standard procedure of submission; review; public hearing; and approval of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA).

Thus the start of construction work was clearly illegal.

All of a sudden, residents of the area and other civic authorities had a rude (and literal) awakening when they saw huge craters appearing overnight where the road once was. In the urgent situation which followed, traffic flow was re-directed and improvised as dust and noise enveloped what was a relatively clean and peaceful area.

Most of the traffic was diverted to the normally very quiet road in front of my apartment building, turning it into a highway with buses and trucks plying at breakneck speed. This led to serious safety issues as residents walked out or turned their car into and out of the building parking.

 Commuters weave their way around excavated earth, rocks and dust on their daily route. — Photo by author
Commuters weave their way around excavated earth, rocks and dust on their daily route. — Photo by author

The Defence Housing Authority filed a lawsuit on the project in Sindh High Court. Since this was a clear violation of laws, the project was halted by a court order. The builder was ordered to bring back the road to the original condition.

But the builder and KMC filed a counter claim to allow resumption of construction. The project has now turned into a court battle while the gaping craters, disoriented traffic, and noise and dust rule the roost unchecked.

Nearly two months have passed since work was stopped. Now it's a waiting game. The construction company refuses to restore the site to its original condition and the KMC has neither the funds nor the will to do so.

The Second Wrong: Meanwhile, the peaceful apartment which was my home turned into a little house on a big highway.

My one source of peace - late night listening to classical music - came to an unceremonious end because of the cacophony of traffic outside. No way could Beethoven’s symphony or the great Ali Akbar Khan’s raga compete with the likes of Quetta-Hazara goods transport or Niazi Super sub-human bus service.

A tsunami of dust started entering the apartment, coating every surface brown. My Internet connection died. The service provider informed me that the cables were cut during the digging for the underpass. It has been over a month since the service went down, with no restoration in sight.

 Another view of the debris in an area otherwise clean.  — Photo by author
Another view of the debris in an area otherwise clean. — Photo by author

The gatekeeper at my building has a problem of a more prosaic but more painful nature: he now has to walk around the whole block to come to work from the nearby Neelum Colony. A walk that took him just 15 minutes now takes 45 minutes besides all the pollution he has to go through. Many others in the area have the same complaint.


Also read: 'Analysis: An iconic mess?'


If permission were granted to continue the project a month ago it would have been almost complete by now. But that would be wrong since the project was started without following the correct procedure.

And now for the right: So here is the dilemma: The original wrong of starting the project without proper impact assessment has led to a situation where stopping it midway would cause the public a huge inconvenience for an undetermined length of time. This ground reality makes a second “wrong” decision of allowing it to proceed more attractive and hence two wrongs are making a right.

A country is indeed in a sorry state if the distinction between right and wrong becomes so distorted that often the wrong answer appears to be the right answer. In such a situation, who can blame the people of Pakistan for becoming cynical and negative?

I wonder, then, why I'm finding it so difficult to teach my grade nine arithmetic students that minus times minus is plus, and minus times plus is minus. Maybe, that's where the term 'nonplussed' comes from!


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