The debate around construction activities in Karachi’s historic Clifton locality has raised arguments of development versus conservation, with many Karachiites arguing that historic landmarks are being destroyed to make way for commercial developments that do not benefit anyone but property developers. Developers argue that given the state of Karachi’s civic amenities, including roads, and the Karachi Municipal Corporation’s (KMC’s) financial difficulties, public-private partnerships are the only way to improve access to civic services. Both arguments have merits; on the one hand, Karachi is a vast urban metropolis that faces significant internal population growth that swells with rural migration from all parts of the country. It requires new roads and amenities to be built. On the other hand, the city’s architecture and public spaces that play an important role in community life are an essential part of its character and are individually valued by Karachi residents. The development of a 60 story high-rise in the Clifton area apparently received required permissions under the Sindh High Density Zone (SHDZ) Act passed in 2010, around the same time that discussions between the KMC and developers were taking place on the proposed high-rise and several underpasses and flyovers to service it. The Act was criticised by urban planners who say it allows a newly formulated SHDZ Board discretionary powers to establish high-density zones and build skyscrapers in the province without consultation with professional experts or civil stakeholders.
There are more immediate concerns as critics of the construction argue that a proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was not filed, though the developer says all formalities were completed. The Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) received notices from civic organisations saying the submitted EIA was inadequate and that Clifton’s civic facilities cannot bear the load of such a ‘massive’ construction project. Taking notice of the possible destruction of a 150 year old Hindu temple threatened by construction activities, the Sindh High Court (SHC) issued a stay order at the beginning of this month, which it vacated this week, allowing construction to continue after the developer assured them adequate measures were being taken to preserve the temple. This is a matter for the courts to adjudicate on, as is the veracity of the EIA. The law provides for a balance of civic concerns and developers’ ambitions. If any requirements of the law and rules were skirted during the building process, the developer is liable to pay hefty fines. These can be used to expand Clifton’s civic capacity. The developers could also be enlisted to improve civic amenities in the area. Ensuring adequate electricity, water supply and sewage disposal for the existing residents of Clifton must take priority, and developers must show that those concerns have been evaluated and are being catered for. In this case, the city could benefit by having private developers help improve the civic facilities of residents. Given the commercial benefits involved, developers should be more than happy to do so. g