The plans to turn part of Saddar into a pedestrian zone have yet to take fruit due to the lucrative extortion business in the area, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The traffic police, representatives of the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and the commissioner’s office are allegedly earning up to Rs80 million in bribes every month. “Due to the presence of corrupt officers, the authorities have been unable to convert Saddar into a pedestrian zone,” said a shopkeeper in Saddar. The plan to convert Saddar into a pedestrian zone was prepared on October 22, 2012, and Sindh governor Dr Ishratul Ebad Khan had also granted Rs100 million, but the project has yet to materialise. According to the proposal, all vehicles will be barred from parking their vehicles in front of Empress Market, Bohri Bazaar, Mochi Gali, Preedy Street, Zaibunnisa Street and other adjoining areas.
Even the nearly 46 buses that are plying on these routes will not be allowed to enter Saddar. Instead, they would take the straight road that connects MA Jinnah Road and Lucky Star. The transporters’ association was, however, not very happy with the idea as several of their routes would be disrupted. “If the government makes Saddar a pedestrian zone, it will neither be beneficial for the transporters nor for any other commuters,” said Karachi Transport Ittehad president Irshad Ahmed Bukhari.
“Whenever this plan materialises, people will have to walk at least 15 to 20 minutes to catch a bus from either Seven-Day hospital or Lucky Star,” he told The Express Tribune.
Good for business?
The traders in the area, who are paying hefty amounts of extortion to various political parties and the traffic police, appreciated the plan. The president of the Sindh Tajir Ittehad, Jamil Ahmed Paracha, expressed his doubts about the plan translating into reality. “Lots of stakeholders are charging bribes and their businesses will end if this area becomes a pedestrian zone,” he said, hoping the government enforces the plan. “If it succeeds, our business will increase by at least 40 per cent.”
According to Paracha, traffic congestion, high level of noise pollution and smoke from vehicles is bad for businesses. “People avoid coming to the city centre for shopping,” he pointed out, hoping the pedestrian zone will improve the traffic situation. “Saddar will once again become an area where people can shop and enjoy walking.” Paracha suggested the government also build wider footpaths to further beautify the area. “This idea came from European cities where every town centre is declared a pedestrian zone to provide a relaxing environment to people.”
Work in progress
The commissioner’s office is still working on this idea as the criminal elements dominate the area, said the chief engineer of the implementation unit at the commissioner’s Office, Syed Muhammad Shakaib.
“We have started negotiations with various stakeholders, including unions, government officials and even political parties that are backing the extortionists,” he said, adding that these stakeholders have assured them of their cooperation. In the first phase, the authorities will remove all encroachments and finalise the re-routing of public buses, said Shakaib. Later, the traffic intersection will be restructured. In the long run, all relevant departments, such as communications, electricity and gas utilities, will be taken on board to make the area environmentally friendly, he added. Interestingly, the part of Raja Ghazanfar Ali Road that falls within Bohri Bazaar was converted into a pedestrian zone nearly two decades ago but Shakaib claimed it is merely an encroachment. The road was blocked for regular traffic before 1987 but there is no official notification that ordered this, he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 3rd, 2013.