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‘Urban planners neglecting the poor’

KARACHI: Social rights activist and town planner Arif Hasan has said that policies being made and planning being carried out for the city are biased against the poor and because of such policies one can see the poor localities underdeveloped and lacking even basic amenities.

Giving a talk on “Bias against lower income group people in policy making and planning” organised by the Urban Resource Centre — an NGO working on urban issues — on Thursday, he said that policies were made by bureaucrats usually coming from middle-class income groups and the ruling elite, and they did not encounter the problems and issues being faced by the poor.

Because of this gap, the policies they made were biased against the poor and if some poor-friendly policies were ever prepared, these were rarely thoroughly implemented, he added.

He said that school syllabus needed to be reviewed and teachers should be properly trained so that they could know and understand realities and problems of the poor masses.

Only if the teachers themselves knew the basic issues, they could properly educate their students belonging to the middle class. And when these students grew up and took the lead in nation-building, they would make poor-friendly policies and adopt a more humane approach, he added.

He said that professional bodies of doctors, engineers, architects, etc, needed to take responsibility in guiding the government in formulation of policies.

He added that it had been seen that middle-class bureaucrats made policies and projects that catered to their own needs.

Giving an example he said that some time back many roads were made signal-free by constructing flyovers and underpasses in a very short time as these could facilitate motorists, etc, but the mass transit system, which would cater to the poor masses, could not be developed despite the lapse of many decades.

He said that even during the construction of signal-free expressways the issues to be faced by pedestrians were not kept in mind as the number of road accidents involving pedestrians had increased after the construction of these flyovers and underpasses.

He said that normally three times more was spent on infrastructure development being carried out in rich and middle-class localities while the poor localities witnessed low spending besides many projects in their localities were not even completed.

He said that it was incorrect to say that funds were not available. Funds were available, but the implementation of these projects was not proper, he added.

Whenever a development project was to be worked on, a large number of poor people who had been living in the way of such a project were relocated usually out of the city where hardly any civic amenities, like transport, electricity, roads, sewerage, potable water, hospitals and schools were available.

Besides these people wasted more time and money on travelling between their houses and workplaces, leaving them with less time for work, and pay additional transport fares, he added.

He said that many government plots had been given to different departments / organisations like the ports, railways, cantonment boards, etc, for specific purposes, but some of them were being used for other purposes.

He said that these pieces of land were available in the centre of the city and many of them were not being utilised by these organisations and demanded that the government take them back and resettle those people on them who had to be relocated to far-flung areas.

He said that some studies showed that there were around 200,000 vendors — using pushcarts, or sitting on ground as encroachers, etc, — in the city and all of them paid extortion to different departments, including police and civic agencies, etc. He said that they all, however, wanted to pay legal fees to the government so that their operations could be regularised, but it was not done.

Some efforts were made and the vendors were relocated to do business at some distance away from their places, but it did not succeed because the basic requirement of these vendors was that they be in the city centre where commuters, who were their customers, passed through, he added.

He said that although the railways earned more from the economy class passengers than commuters using the first class, the waiting rooms available for both types of passengers presented a different picture with better facilities for the upper class passengers.

Similarly the bus terminal being operated by luxury bus operators and the government bus terminals presented totally different pictures.

He said that even public toilets were not available commonly, and where ever available, these were not properly maintained.

A question answer session followed the lecture.

Tasneem Siddiqui, Zahid Farooq, Sabir Shah, Attaullah Shah, Masood Alam, Pervez, Ali, Mahfooz-un-Nabi, Mahboob Illahi, Tariq Aziz and others participated in the question answer session.