THE flooding on Wednesday in Islamabad’s E-11/2 sector is deserving of the shock it has spawned. The flouting of urban-planning by-laws, avarice and mismanagement by the authorities are nothing new. Urban flooding has in the past caused havoc in many cities. But in Islamabad, the capital that was established from scratch and is much touted as being developed according to a formal, long-term master plan? It is apparent that this ideal exists only on paper. And even here, E-11 is in a class of its own. It seems that in the 1960 CDA Ordinance, then president Ayub Khan exempted this sector from the authority’s oversight because of the presence of the Golra Sharif shrine. In 2007-08, the authority made by-laws for high-rise buildings here, but these were not stringently implemented. Today, we have the tragedy of a woman and her son having drowned in the basement of their home in the Medical Cooperative Housing Society, while countless others have suffered material damage.

Subsequent to the disaster, satellite images of the area taken in 2002 and 2008, were compared with those from 2010-12. They establish that the storm-water drain entering the area was straightened and a bottleneck apparently created by the housing authority, which carved out residential and commercial plots and roads, while turning a blind eye to encroachments. Nearly a decade ago, the housing society appears to have had the layout plan approved by the CDA but went ahead with plot sales and construction without obtaining the requisite no-objection certificate. Later, the CDA cancelled the plan’s approval but by then, it was too late. Now, the government has promised remedial action; perhaps natural water courses will be restored and new developments will, by some miracle, be closely watched so that the by-laws are not flouted. City managers also decided to send a summary to the prime minister to revoke the 1960 exemption for E-11. But what of those who have lost so much and stand to lose more? Helpless citizens can only hope.

Published in Dawn, August 1st, 2021

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