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Too many planners

January 02, 2019

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The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.
The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.

RECENTLY, the commissioner Karachi issued a notification dividing the city into three zones: downtown, uptown and old town. Prima facie, it appears to be an attempt to redefine the city’s administrative arrangements, however, it doesn’t provide any details or schedules to identify the neighbourhoods and peri-urban locations that may have been included in this attempt.

It’s also incomplete, as Karachi is much more than the aforementioned zones. While the commissioner may deem it worthy to eventually elaborate on these matters, it provides an opportunity to review the jurisdictional arrangements of this complex metropolis.

Present-day Karachi has a fragmented administrative setup. Despite being one city, different land development and management agencies control its affairs with overlapping functions and jurisdictions.

Karachi and its residents deserve better.

Immediately following Independence, many new residential locations were outlined and developed in various peripheries of the city by the central rehabilitation ministry. Starting in the late 1950s, more neighbourhoods were developed and allotted by KDA, while the present-day DHA acquired land from the provincial Board of Revenue to carve out plots for its allottees.

The Lyari and Malir Development Autho­rities and the newly reincarnated KDA similarly develop and manage land. KPT and Port Qasim Authority, besides managing ports, develop and manage lands. Pakistan Railways and SITE develop lands for operational as well as general urban purposes. 

In its present state, Karachi’s urban locations within the municipal area are jointly managed by KMC and six district municipal corporations. For the same responsibilities in corresponding military locations, the city has six cantonment boards.

Each organisation functions through its own set of statutes and hierarchies, leaving little room for a coordinated effort in urban planning, development and management. The city’s various master plans emphatically stressed the need for a steering committee with representatives from each agency to harmonise key decisions and development — to no avail.

Post-18th Amendment, the grip of provincial administration has further strengthened, with the city’s affairs being closely controlled by different organs of the Sindh government. It now possesses more financial space and hence exercises tighter control. Karachi’s peculiar political equation is an important factor that must be examined objectively. The provincial government and city administration rarely shared the same political alignment. Whereas Sindh has usually been ruled by the PPP, a few interludes notwithstanding, Karachi’s citizens have elected representatives from a wide gamut of political parties. Yet the Sindh government wields tight control over service delivery, and, with regard to land management, tilts decision-making powers in its favour.

For instance, a few years ago, the Master Plan and Environmental Control Depart­ment, then under KDA, was made part of the Sindh Building Control Authority. While the Sindh government appoints the heads of both, the earlier arrangement was technically and managerially appropriate. The military establishment exercised exclusive jurisdiction on their residential estates through DHA and respective cantonment boards. The provision of essential services such as water supply, sewerage, solid waste management, constructing roads, removing encroachments, developing parks, etc now fall in the hands of the provincial government. The presence of large-scale real estate developers further complicates the situation as they exert influence on development for their commercial interests.

Citizens and city suffer alike when administrative squabbles result in a breakdown of services, maintenance and repair of infrastructure.

Different government agencies devise jurisdictional organisation of territory under their control to suit functional and often political objectives. For instance, the ECP divides the city into electoral constituencies; KWSB by its service delivery and revenue collection zones; the police according to zones and limits.

Perhaps the commissioner’s order has some functional significance. But the more important need is for a consensus formula to manage Karachi as one urban entity. With over a third of Sindh’s population residing within it, and accounting for a large portion of national revenue, Karachi deserves a better administrative and technical response.

A Karachi planning agency must be created as the main forum for analysing development and management issues, and recommending planning proposals for its various neighbourhoods. Legal cover must be accorded to this arrangement as suggested in the city’s master plans. A formula for smooth financial allocations to municipal and local agencies must be devised. The establishment and federal government must also participate in this process, given the primacy of the city in national affairs.

The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.

Published in Dawn, January 2nd, 2019