Official neglect ruining park developed in Benazir’s name

30 Sep 2019

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THE broken fencing, piece of cement benches and the gallery  with missing glass panels shed adequate light on the park’s current state.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
THE broken fencing, piece of cement benches and the gallery with missing glass panels shed adequate light on the park’s current state.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Many of the glass panels of the most beautiful structure, a gallery for display of arts and crafts, in Shaheed Benazir Bhutto Park are missing altogether, a recent visit to the park in Clifton shows.

Several of the cement benches with round pedestals lie about broken into pieces. The cement fencing running along the boating basin has collapsed at places with the debris still lying nearby. The exquisite bobbing pathway made from dovetailed plastic blocks for a joyful walk on the water body is damaged and ripped from its roots. The jogging track paved with sturdy planks sits mercilessly denuded of the wooden pieces in big patches. Piles of rotting, stinking garbage and rubble along the quay wall are growing in height, length and breadth with nobody caring to contain the mess.

Every time you visit the park after a few months’ break, you will find it in a worse condition than your previous call. But this visit to the one of the most exquisite parks of the country found the recreational facility in a horrible state.

Then president of Pakistan Asif Ali Zardari had predicted a 100-year life for the park

Incidentally, the plaque at the main gate bears the name of Liaquat Ali Khan Qaimkhani, the former director general of parks, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, who has landed in the National Accountability Bureau net for amassing assets beyond his known means of income.

Earlier this park was open to families only. The distinction is no long maintained. So, more men can be seen loitering here than women and children enjoying themselves in peace. An occasional passing vendor also raises his voice to hawk his goods.

Even motorcyclists can be spotted riding about with impunity. When a rider was stopped and asked if he knew it was not permitted to ride a motorbike inside the park, he said he was aware of it. But “they (men at the gate) allow people in as they like. They are my acquaintances (jaan pehchaan walay hein),” he remarked with a smile and rode away.

Long unkempt grass shows it has not been mowed for a long time though around four dozen gardeners are reportedly employed for the job. Pieces of trash, particularly the ubiquitous polythene bags, cling to the tall strands of grass and plants.

Iron exercise fixtures are rusting and losing their parts both to corrosion and vandals. The ruthless vandals and thieves seem to escape the attention of the six watchmen, working three each in day and night shifts. Or are they paid to turn a blind eye to such destructions?

Paan peek, or the crimson spittle, the city’s sorts of trademark, is a common ugly sight.

Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah had recently announced his government’s plan to turn the crumbling Metropole Hotel into a modern park for children and the elderly. Even if a spot surrounded by whirling heavy traffic could be turned into a recreational spot, there is little sense in allowing an existing one to ‘rust in piece’ and building more of its kind.

Proper maintenance of the park is a real challenge for the Sindh government. If it cannot do so, there can be no stronger proof of its failure in governance. It cannot blame the Karachi Development Authority or the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, which might be administering it, for what it should own and adopt as a legitimate PPP baby. It is literally at a stone’s throw from the Bilawal House. It is named after the former leader of the Pakistan Peoples Party, around whom the PPP politics revolves. PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari, Aseefa and Bakhtawar might also have seen the fallen part of the boundary wall while driving out of their palatial home and past the park. However, the boundary wall is camouflaged by greenery and is the only part of the park that is in a somewhat reasonable condition. Knowing well that their bosses will never step inside the park, officials get away with their criminal neglect.

The park was inaugurated by Almas Parveen, a senator of the Pakistan Peoples Party from Lyari, in 2010 in the absence of Asif Ali Zardari, who could not make it to the event. The park was a befitting tribute by the PPP government to its slain leader Benazir Bhutto.

In a statement at the inauguration, Asif Zardari, the then president, had predicted a 100-year life for the park. If it continues to disintegrate at the pace it does, it can hardly survive for another decade.

Spread over 152 acres, it cost Rs870 million to the provincial exchequer when it was completed. Much more has been spent on its ‘maintenance’. This is the first park in Pakistan where American grass was planted. Reportedly, some of the saplings were also imported.

In 2017, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar visited the park and promised to help improve its condition. A year or so ago it was reportedly taken from the KMC and given in the KDA control.

Its deterioration probably began when a young man was killed at the Rangers’ hands on June 10, 2011.That scary episode, which had gone viral on social media and had made headlines in the electronic and print media, would have kept many families away from the park for a long time.

Published in Dawn, September 30th, 2019