KARACHI: A residential area next to the Jamaat Khana in Clifton could be opened to commercialisation, depending on the outcome of a court battle.
About six years ago, two plots in Block 7 were converted from residential to commercial but no construction was allowed as the proper environmental assessment was not undertaken. According to the rules, before any building can start, an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) must be submitted. In the case of these plots, no EIA was conducted and the matter has been taken to court by some residents and the Clifton Block 7 Residents Association. The home department has objected to the commercialisation of the area because of security concerns surrounding the Jamaat khana.
The area in question already has some scattered, illegal commercial activity in the form of a bank and other businesses that have been set up within residential plots in an area which is predominantly populated by bungalows.
On Monday, a hearing took place at the Environmental Protection Tribunal. “I am not against commercialisation, but it has to be done in a planned way,” Barrister Mohammad Abdur Rahman told The Express Tribune afterwards. “The infrastructural changes should be made in advance.” Rahman argued that before anything can be re-planned or built, serious consideration needs to be given to how the construction will affect the existing infrastructure.
Commercialisation of any area puts a greater strain on its utilities that may have been designed to handle residential loads, as opposed to those for businesses as well. “There already is a shortage of water and electricity in the area,” said Abdul Hussain of the Clifton Block 7 Residents Association. He gave the example of Gulf.
As Karachi expands, commercialisation of residential areas has become a question for developers, the people who live in these areas and NGOs that fight it. One of them is Farhan Anwar, who works with Shehri and has written a paper titled Commercialisation of Traffic Corridors in Karachi. “There is a lack of data to build viable research on the effects of commercialisation,” he told The Express Tribune, “but I have seen that traffic congestion is one of the biggest problems that comes with commercialisation.” When traffic increases in an area, so do the accidents. Footpaths are also eaten up. Pollution also goes up.
“In strip commercialisation you can lose control of the area as the commercialisation tends to spread past the formally commercialised areas, as we have already seen in Tariq Road’s case,” says Anwar. He recommends block commercialisation instead.
Anwar says that the problem with a lot of planning when it comes to commercialisation in Karachi is that the stakeholders aren’t taken into consideration. “A survey was done during the commercialisation of PECHS block 2 and the result came back that 80 per cent of residents didn’t favour it.” Nonetheless, business won.
This seems to be the case for the Clifton blocks now. “People in the neighborhood don’t want it,” says their laywer Abdur Rahman. “The area appreciates in land value but it depreciates in a civic sense.” As far as money is concerned, there is a lot to be made. According to real estate consultant, Muhammad Shafi Jakvani areas that are on the main road and have been officially declared commercial could see their value go up nearly 500 times, if the market is good. Indeed, that may be the case, but for the residents, this is bad for business no matter which way you look at it.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 21st, 2012.