WHILE hearing matters related to encroachments and allegedly unauthorised use of state land in Karachi, a bench of the Supreme Court recently directed government functionaries to take measures to return the city to its ‘original master plan’. Interestingly, though Karachi benefited from many development plans since 1947, none were notified by the Sindh government. Although some work happened to align with the city’s various development plans, there was no single legally binding planning document to guide urban growth and governance.
For instance, when the city became Pakistan’s capital in 1947, the Greater Karachi Plan was prepared in 1951 to scientifically accommodate its administrative functions. It proposed to site the capitol complex some 20 kilometres away in Gadap, linked to the existing city through fast-moving rail and road connections.
When the capital moved to Islamabad, much of the scheme became ineffective. To tackle incoming migrants, the Greater Karachi Resettlement Plan was prepared in 1958, which aimed to house newcomers in self-contained satellite towns, with broad-based industrial and commercial locations as the focal spines. Landhi-Korangi and North Karachi were two initial locations, but the high pace of residential occupation could not be matched with relatively slow industrial development, slowing down further after nationalisation.
In 1973, the Karachi Development Authority’s master plan department prepared a comprehensive development plan after a lengthy process of data collection and analysis. It projected future development trends and identified locations for new neighbourhoods, commercial and industrial areas as well as infrastructure to support the demands of the city dwellers.
Karachi is growing in a rudderless manner.
The same department also made the next plan for 1986-2000 with effective input from national and international experts. Sadly, none of these plans were given legal cover. After civic agencies were merged, the (now defunct) city district government prepared the Karachi Strategic Development Plan (KSDP) 2020. While the city council adopted this plan, it lost credence after the devolution plan was undone by the provincial government some years later.
It is common logic to establish a vision of the city in relation to existing realities and anticipated changes. The 1986-2000 planning document consisted of six distinct scenarios and attendant strategies: infilling and consolidating developed areas; assuming a low-to-moderate urban growth; predicting (conservatively) no growth and aiming to upgrade infrastructure; focusing on development of low-income settlements; planning exclusively for later development; and providing services to cantonments and housing societies.
The KSDP also had many useful options for managing transportation and mobility in the wake of rising car ownership. The prevailing situation urgently demands a conceptual vision of the city developed through consultations with all sections of society. That vision may be gradually and periodically translated into development and management plans covering tangible time and space parameters.
A legally binding plan is a safeguard against rising influences of market forces, consumerism and globalisation. Market forces will inevitably seek the best conditions to maximise profit, and engage in any activities that offer lucrative returns, colluding with all types of stakeholders, both overtly and covertly.
Be it real estate or trading, consulting or contracting, brokerage or banking, health or education, every sector and area is exploited. Only the fittest can survive, leaving trails of masses to suffer the negative repercussions. A legally validated plan, however, poses a check on any project or programme that is not duly incorporated in its stipulations.
The built environment of a city is envisioned through its city plan, and enforced by building control agencies to ensure the city is developing and functioning in a rational manner. Although the 1973-1985 and 1986-2000 plans were both different in approach, content and outputs, both offered a useful mechanism to guide development.
They were never officially notified, although sizable funds and professional input had gone into their making. It was obvious that their notification would have obstructed the whimsical disposal of land for mega real estate ventures and arbitrary high-cost development projects. With an administration that is unable to check such offenders, the city is growing in a rudderless manner.
The Supreme Court can help direct the concerned authorities to bring the planning process back on scientific grounds and give it legal cover. The policy and execution roles of the federal, provincial and city governments must be clearly drawn, with the upper tiers of government voluntarily delegating their existing powers to the planning agency to ensure effectively implementation.
The writer is chairman, Department of Architecture & Planning, NED University, Karachi.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2019