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Concern over 100 high-rises under construction in Karachi

Updated May 28, 2016

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The public hearing on a high-rise project is under way at a hotel on Friday.—White Star
The public hearing on a high-rise project is under way at a hotel on Friday.—White Star

KARACHI: A public hearing held on Friday at a local hotel to discuss the environmental impact assessment (EIA) report of a major residential-cum-commercial project coming up in Clifton raised many serious issues for consideration and resolution by the government and all land owning organisations/ departments.

The gravity of these issues linked to city’s survival and sustainability, in fact, overshadowed the entire programme; over 100 high-rise buildings in the city, many of them being built in the high-density zones and without fulfilling legal requirements and expanding civic infrastructure, are under construction while a large number of city roads have been commercialised.

“Thirty-two roads have been commercialised and building plans are being approved without developing civic infrastructure and conducting EIAs. This is a dangerous trend being witnessed in the city,” director general of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) Naeem Ahmed Mughal told the audience following a briefing and question-answer session on the EIA report.

He described the situation in Karachi as ‘confusing’ and said there seemed to be no strategy in place on city development and growth. Criticising the Defence Housing Authority, which has done massive land reclamation for its different projects, he said it was building its Phase 8 spread over 4,500 acres without conducting an EIA.

“On the other hand, the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) is reclaiming land after cutting hundreds of mangroves. We need to ask ourselves where we are taking Karachi?” he asked. He, however, avoided explaining what his department had done to stop illegal construction.

High-rise on sinking coast

Proposed to be built in the block five of Clifton near Park Towers and the Pakistan Institute of Management, the project ‘Sky Gardens’ comprises an area 57,870 square feet and consists of twin towers, one with 53 storeys and the other with 29 storeys. The Bibojee Services Private Limited is the project sponsor.

While admitting that the coastal belt was sinking on account of land subsidence, the areas of the DHA and Clifton were vulnerable to minor earthquakes and are exposed to the phenomenon of liquefaction as large parts of these areas comprised land reclaimed from the sea, proponents of the project attempted to justify its construction in the programme.

Surprisingly, the hearing called by Sepa didn’t have representation of Clifton residents directly or indirectly to be affected by the 172-meter high project.

Though public representation was extremely inadequate, some speakers did raise pertinent questions on the project; of the most important concerns was how the water needs of the project would be met given the fact the city presently faced 50pc shortage (the project on completion would require 170,160 gallons of water).

Replying to this question, it was pointed out on behalf of the project advocates that the project included a reverse osmosis plant to draw out ground seawater. They, however, couldn’t give satisfactory reply when asked whether any study was carried out to determine the impact of drawing out ground seawater would cause in the area, which, according to the project consultants, was already ‘fragile’ and ‘sinking’.

“We are tapping sea water, which is endless. We will deliver what we are saying whether any government monitoring is done or not after and during the project,” argued project architect Tariq Hassan.

Replying to another question, he said all approvals from relevant agencies, including the Civil Aviation Authority, had been taken.

Sharing important features of the project, Mr Hasan said it would be the first green building of the city and planned by an expert team of consultants. “It’s a complete residential project, apart from a small club and restaurant. The building is designed according to the building code of Pakistan (zone 2B-moderate seismic risk zone) and will reuse 30pc of its own water through a recycling system.”

The project was said to have massive plantation, a drip irrigation and rain harvesting system, 800kv solar panels, energy efficient glass, heat reducing screens and efficient fire fighting system.

Earlier, Saquib Ejaz Hussain representing the Environmental Management Consultants, which carried out the EIA of the project, said the topography of the project area, once comprising swampy mudflats, had been completely altered and the entire area from the Manora channel to Clifton had been reclaimed by filling the low marshy land.

“Though there is no tsunami threat to the project area, the coastal belt is sinking due to land subsidence and also vulnerable to liquefaction. A water tank sank near Clifton area in 2006 reportedly on account of liquefaction caused by mild earthquakes,” he told the audience.

The only way to tackle these threats was to have ‘quality construction’, he added.

Nadeem Arif representing the EMC explained the need for the project, arguing that population growth rate of Karachi (4.15pc) was higher than other cities and the current housing backlog of the city was estimated to be 90,000 units per year.

“Detailed ground work investigation has been done for the project that includes ecological survey, environmental monitoring, reconnaissance survey and stakeholder consultation. All legal requirements and guidelines have been followed in preparing the EIA report,” he said.

Published in Dawn, May 28th, 2016