The cinema industry has witnessed a recent boom and investors are continuously on the lookout for good spots. The government has also reduced the entertainment tax and relaxed the ban on screening Indian movies.
With many small theatres owned by private firms cropping up, the trend has not escaped the eyes of certain official quarters. Jumping onto the bandwagon is the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), which plans a foray into the entertainment industry under a public-private partnership.
The city administration has decided to lend a part of Safari Park to a private investor to build five movie theatres with a capacity to accommodate 1,000 people at a time. The move has, however, raised many eyebrows as the park being a public amenity cannot be used for any commercial purpose.
According to the Karachi master plan, the Safari park was spread over 300 acres but over the years, massive encroachments on the amenity land have cut down the park’s size to 170 acres. A few years ago, 10 acres were dedicated to a theme park and now the management has set aside two more acres of land for another commercial venture.
The private company involved in the project is Cinepax, which already runs a cinema in Rawalpindi. Under the agreement, the firm will pay Rs250 million to the city administration for using Safari Park for 10 years. But the controversial plan still has to go through a cumbersome clearance from the legal department.
“There are some legal hitches and we are seeking the opinion of our lawyer,” said Shoaib Waqar, head of KMC’s Enterprise and Investment Promotion Department. “Under the relevant rules, we can use five per cent of the park’s space for commercial purposes. I don’t think there is anything wrong with it.”
“After 10 years, the facility will be handed over to the KMC,” said Waqar, who is responsible to find ways to bring investment to the port city. “There would be ample space for parking cars as well,” he continued.
The idea had initially surfaced during the tenure of Mustafa Kamal’s city government, which was finding ways to boost its dwindling revenues. Two spots, one in Safari Park and another at the KMC Sports Complex along Kashmir Road, were identified for opening new cinemas. Saad Baig, an official of Cinepax Private Limited, said the project was delayed as the use of Safari Park to screen movies was not mentioned in the city’s master plan. “I am not sure how long will it take for that issue to be settled,” he added. He was also of the view that as the project involves not just a cinema but recreational facilities also, like a bowling alley and other gaming features, there is nothing controversial.
Two more movie theatres are coming up in the city. Cinepax’s first cinema in Karachi will open later in the year at The Mall (formerly Sofitel Towers), while another theatre is being built at Moin Khan Academy in DHA Phase-VIII.
Running a cinema has become a very profitable business, said Nadeem Mandviwala, the man behind Atrium Cinemas – Pakistan’s first digital 3D theatre. “I have been in the business for 30 years [now] and the growth has been unprecedented.”
He was also sceptical of the project at Safari Park. “Using an amenity plot for commercial purposes can be problematic for investors even if the municipal authorities have given approval,” he said. “Anyone can go to the court against such ventures.”
A civil advocacy group, Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment, says that the commercial use of public parks is illegal. “It [cinemas at Safari Park] would not be the first time amenity plots are misused,” said Shehri’s Amber Alibhai.
“Every area in Karachi is supposed to have a dedicated plot for public entertainment,” she said. “But successive city governments have allowed construction over such plots, and now claim they’ve run out of space.”
The KMC has often landed on the wrong side of law by commercialising amenity plots in its bid to make extra cash. Chunks of its sports complex have been leased out for marriage ceremonies while an underground car park was built at the Baradari Ground – another amenity plot.
Safari Park, which once housed only a mini zoo and was a popular picnic spot, has another privately-run recreational facility called Go Aish. The adventure park itself is also controversial as it a commercial venture on amenity land.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2012.
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