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Independent commission to propose revisions to capital’s master plan

Updated November 14, 2018

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Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi speaks at the press conference on Tuesday. — White Star
Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi speaks at the press conference on Tuesday. — White Star

ISLAMABAD: An independent commission will be formed to propose revisions to the capital’s master plan for the first time in Islamabad’s 58-year history, following orders from the prime minister during a meeting on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Imran Khan ordered the first ever revision of the capital’s master plan while chairing a meeting on the Capital Development Authority (CDA).

Addressing a press conference later the same day, Minister of State for Interior Shehryar Afridi said an independent commission headed by professionals of high calibre will be formed to revise the master plan within the next three to six months.

First-ever revision will consider requirements of Islamabad’s more than 2m population

Special assistant to the prime minister on CDA affairs, Ali Nawaz Awan, was also present.

The requirements of the city’s population have multiplied over the years, Mr Afridi said, specifically with regard to education, health, the environment, infrastructure and water. He added that the city’s master plan was supposed to be revised every 20 years, but successive governments chose not to do so.

A document will be prepared that will consider the requirements of Islamabad’s population of more than 2 million, and will resolve the problems facing the city, he claimed.

Mr Awan said at the press conference that the commission will not be chaired by a civil servant.

Calling Islamabad the face of Pakistan, he said the unplanned proliferation of structures had gone unchecked while successive governments sold the capital out to land grabbers.

In response to a question on land retrieved by the government during its ongoing operation, Mr Afridi said Rs300 billion worth of property have been recovered from land grabbers; 35,000 kanals of land have been retrieved, including 1,200 kanals in Bahria Enclave.

He said there was no room for land grabbers, their collaborators and their facilitators in ‘Naya Pakistan’. All such cases will be taken to a certain level through legal proceedings, and it would then be for the court to adjudicate.

When asked about Banigala, Mr Afridi said this was the first government in which a sitting prime minister has been sent a notice by the CDA.

The master plan of the city was prepared by the Greek firm Doxiadis in 1960, which also suggested revising the plan every 20 years.

Successive governments, however, did not make any serious attempt to revise the plan, resulting in a lack of civic planning and haphazard construction.

The CDA has also failed to implement its by-laws beyond the capital’s urban areas, leaving Islamabad’s 32 rural union councils unattended.

These rural areas are now dotted with unauthorised commercial and residential buildings – particularly Zone III, where the existing master plan does not allow construction.

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s private residence in Banigala is also unauthorised. Under orders from the Supreme Court, the CDA is now moving ahead with fining such construction, including Mr Khan’s home, and then regularising them following the proper procedure.

Sources in the CDA said that instead of comprehensive revisions envisioned by the firm, the focus has been on selective, intermittent changes.

The last was made in May this year, by the federal cabinet led by former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, which allowed private housing schemes in Zone IV sub-zone C, apparently to give legal cover to the already developed housing schemes in the area, including Bahria Enclave.

CDA officials said that work on the mast plan was started twice but was not approved by the federal government. The authority made serious efforts in 1986 and 2005, they said, but did not receive a response from the governments at the time.

Zoning regulations promulgated by the federal government in 1992 divided the capital into five zones, allowing housing societies in Zone IV to – CDA officials claim – benefit landlords who owned land in that area.

When changes were made to the master plan, the government did not propose alternates. For example, if an industrial sector was converted to a residential one, a new industrial sector was not proposed elsewhere.

Sources in the CDA said that the entire I-8 sector was reserved for a transportation centre and bus terminals under the original plan. In 1990, when the federal government changed it to a residential sector, the need for a transportation centre was not kept in mind, resulting in illegal bus stands being set up across the city. Even today there is no intra-city bus terminal in the capital.

Other changes including replacing the F-9 residential sector with a park, and changing the I-12 and I-15 industrial sectors to residential sectors.

E-11, originally a residential sector, was given the status of a residential sector with housing schemes – more than 70 multi-storey commercial buildings have been built there since.

While hearing a case on encroachment in E-11 and Banigala, a larger bench of the Islamabad High Court a few months ago directed the government to constitute a commission of professionals in the fields of town planning, environmental management and finance, but the commission has not been notified yet.

Published in Dawn, November 14th, 2018

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