KARACHI: The Rs200 billion public transport projects would cater to only 10 per cent of the city’s total passenger load unless the government backs them up with efficient feeding services and attractive fare structure.
This was stated by Dr Noman Ahmed, professor and dean, Faculty of Architecture and Management Sciences, NED University of Engineering and Technology, at a panel discussion held at the Usman Institute of Technology (UIT) on Wednesday.
Organised by the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), the event aimed at educating students on the pressing urban challenges Karachi faces and helping them understand roles they could play in the city’s progress.
‘Govt departments responsible for city’s upkeep don’t have capacity to do their job’
Sharing his views on the subject, Dr Ahmed said that one of the biggest issues the city faced was the fact that the government departments responsible for its upkeep didn’t have the capacity to do their job.
“There is a major need for restructuring and to have strong executive institutions,” he said, adding that all government departments required institutional efficiency, including the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and Karachi Development Authority.
Briefly tracing the city’s history, he said that the British realised the importance of Karachi soon after taking it over and laid the foundations of a municipality in 1852.
The city remained a federal capital territory for over nine years after independence and grew enormously as an economic hub and, in the process, also became home to many people who came for jobs from other parts of the country and settled here.
“The government departments, however, couldn’t grow with the same pace as the city’s population increased manifold,” he said.
Describing the city’s transport challenges as very serious, he pointed out that the two ambitious government transport projects, the bus rapid transit (BRT) comprising six-plus lines and the revival of Karachi Circular Railway, estimated to cost Rs170bn and Rs22bn, separately, would cater to only 10 per cent of the city’s passenger load.
“This cost is for the projects if they are completed on their scheduled time,” he explained, adding that it would be another challenge for the government to bring about change in social habits and encourage people forced to buy their own vehicles due to prolonged public transport crisis to opt for BRT.
‘No water shortage: problem is in distribution’
On water shortages, he was of the opinion that it was a hypothesis that supplies of the basic commodity were far less than the city’s requirement as the issue seemed to be more connected with poor distribution and lack of efficiency.
“Top officials of the Karachi Water and Sewerage Board admit that one third of city’s water is lost [due to theft and dilapidated distribution network],” he said.
Responding to a question, he said that it’s unfortunate that displacements of the poor marked the beginning of some major city projects, though ways existed to avoid events affecting human lives and livelihoods, like in the case of Lyari Expressway.
Senior researcher at Piler Zeenia Shaukat, the other panellist, questioned as to how ‘development’ should be defined and who paid the cost for the city’s ‘development’.
Asked about high-rise issues, she said that it’s an old phenomenon which saw a rise in the 1990s and is seen as a problem mainly due to failure on part of the regulatory bodies to ensure compliance with rules and regulations during and after construction.
Referring to the city’s violent history, she said that while security agencies praise their efforts in bringing peace to the city, it appeared to be a temporary phenomenon and the root causes of violence should be studied.
During the question-answer session, it was pointed out that the city’s growing civic issues also indicated presence of a large political vacuum as it lacked required representation in both provincial and national assemblies.
The idea to bring the city again under federal control wouldn’t bring long-term benefits, it was said.
Dr Shoaib Zaidi, the dean of UIT, also participated in the discussion moderated by Abida Ali representing Piler.
Published in Dawn, April 25th, 2019