IT is encouraging that on Thursday, the restructured commission formed by the federal cabinet to revise Islamabad’s master plan finally met to chalk out the modalities. At the meeting held at the offices of the Capital Development Authority, eight independent committees were formed. Their task is to come up with solutions relating to different aspects of the challenge that include regional planning and transport access, population, and urban, legal and environmental issues. These eight committees will review the city blueprint and, if the need so arises, engage consultants or buttressing government agencies, such as the Ministry of Climate Change for environmental issues. The timeline has been capped at six months.

Due to various reasons, including a rapidly expanding population and market forces, it has not been possible to keep the development of the capital city within the ambit of the original master plan designed by the Greek firm Doxiadis Associates. True, none of our cities show cohesive development — but many of them have a history of organic growth stretching back centuries. For a city established from scratch a handful of decades ago (the Capital of the Republic [Determination of Area] Ordinance was promulgated in 1963), the currently chaotic state of Islamabad demands revision of the master plan with some dynamic measures being taken. From issues such unplanned housing societies (such as Banigala, which was given legal cover retrospectively) and crises of civic infrastructure management as seen in the recent flooding of Sector E-11, to the rapid ‘colonisation’ of areas originally reserved for local growers — for example Chak Shehzad, where small-scale agriculturalists have been forced out of the market by land-price dictates and cold-storage constraints — the problems are myriad. Earlier reviews of the master plan (for example, in 1986 and 2005) were unable to obtain cabinet approval. Now that the exercise is again being undertaken, rather than focus on a restrictive timeline, overarching emphasis must remain on doing the job properly and comprehensively. Bureaucratic haste may later be responsible for a very high cost.

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2021

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