The poor, environment bear the brunt of flawed policies

Operation against informal settlements fails to meet requirements of justice


Danish Hussain December 31, 2015

ISLAMABAD:


The year 2015, though, saw infrastructure development in the capital in the form of multi-billion-rupee metro bus project, the city’s proverbial greenery and the tree cover bore the brunt of government policies.


Moreover, the year was particularly tough for the labourers and non-Muslim residents especially Christians living in the slums of the city, who saw their homes demolished in an anti-encroachment drive that was anything but across the board.

The year was full of physical, financial and mental distress for the poor and non-Muslims living in informal settlements due to absence of low-income housing in the city. Similarly, for most of the residents of the city sufficient water supply, affordable housing, uninterrupted gas and electricity supply, sectoral development remained a dream.

The government’s apologetic response to the Lal Masjid issue and the provocative statements by its controversial cleric Abdul Aziz, prompted a number of civil society protests in the city but to no vain.

Mass-transit

The government amid much fanfare launched around Rs45 billion mass-transit project for the twin cities in 2015. Although, termed the costliest project by the American Public Transport Association, some 100,558 passengers benefit from the service daily. The project’s high cost and award of its different contracts, however, remained controversial.

The city also witnessed completion of the Kashmir Highway, and expansion of Islamabad Highway is in progress. For both projects major component of financing was provided by the federal government. Under PM’s Rs1.5 billion roads rehabilitation package, the CDA is currently busy in recarpeting, necessary patch work, lane marking and signage works of 132 intra-city roads.

Leafy capital sacrificed its 1,059 fully grown trees, 3,773 small trees, and 5,526 ground covers and small bushes to pave way for this roads infrastructure development. The project also ate up a significant portion of a park in I-8.

Encroachments

In July 2015, a state-backed anti encroachment operation resulted in demolition of city’s largest informal settlement at sector I-11. Mud houses of over 1,000 labourers families were bulldozed and thousands of individuals were forcibly evicted after labeling them “criminals”.

CDA apology

Similarly, the civic agency dubbed the city’s most peaceful Christian community, also residing in informal settlements, as a threat for Muslim majority of the capital. Due to hue and cry over the issue, the head of civic agency tendered an unconditional apology.

Lal Masjid

Lal Masjid cleric Maulana Abdul Aziz came to prominence once again. On first anniversary of Army Public School massacre, rights activists also staged a protest outside the Lal Masjid with a demand of Abdul Aziz’s arrest for his sympathetic statements in favour of terrorists, and in the backdrop of two FIRs registered against him in 2014.

However, instead of arresting him, the police arrested the protesting activists. Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, on the other hand insisted in the parliament that government could not arrest Maulana Aziz as there existed no pending case against him.

LG system in place

On the other hand, one of the positives that came out during the year was the holding of first-ever local government elections in the city, thanks to the stance maintained by the country’s highest court over the issue.

A close contest was observed between the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI). The PML-N is all set to have its mayor in the city.

In 2016, resident’s elected representatives will be expected to confront a number of civic issues, but due to the discrepancies in the local government act, the overall planning and sectoral development still rests with the capital’s civic agency.

Published in The Express Tribune, January 1st, 2016.

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