SC on Karachi

May 18, 2019

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WHILE hearing a case regarding illegal encroachments in Karachi, the Supreme Court recently issued a detailed order that is a stinging indictment of all those in power, and what they have done with this megacity. As one of the learned justices commented, Karachi has been turned into a “big slum” with no trees, proper roads or playgrounds. “There is on all roads ... filth, heaps of garbage, sewerage water. ...” the order reads. Indeed, for residents of this forsaken city, this is not news; however, it is welcome that the apex court has taken note of Karachi’s plight. The fact is that all three tiers of government — the centre, the Sindh government and the KMC — have failed to maintain cleanliness and develop infrastructure in Sindh’s capital and Pakistan’s economic heart. While other major cities in the country have received or are in the process of building modern commuter bus and train systems, the people of Karachi have to risk their lives on decrepit smoke-belching hulks to get from point A to point B. Major thoroughfares are potholed, sewage overflows regularly, and solid waste disposal and management is an alien concept in this city. The neglect has been sustained for decades, save for a few years of development during the Musharraf era. Those in power in Islamabad have remained aloof to Karachi’s plight, preferring to announce ‘packages’ for the city that never seem to materialise. The provincial government’s neglect of the city is appalling, especially as the PPP-led set-up has usurped municipal services from the local bodies. And the MQM-led KMC, which claims having limited powers and funds, cannot escape censure, as in the past prime tracts of the city’s land — parks, amenity plots etc — were gobbled up under the odious practice colloquially known as ‘china cutting’, overseen by the Muttahida. So in Karachi’s case, no hands are clean, and it is the citizens who have been left in the lurch.

To rectify this mess, the Supreme Court has called upon the Sindh chief minister, the mayor and all civic agencies to sit together and save Karachi from “massive collapse”. These are wise words, and perhaps the process can begin by granting the local government in Karachi full municipal powers to oversee water, waste disposal and other civic matters. The Sindh government should have a supervisory role, and while it may take decades to fix Karachi, the first steps towards this objective need to be taken promptly.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2019