Public hearing: MNA, residents reject new environment impact assessment on Clifton flyover

Court had ordered a new report given the objections to the road works planned around a new 67-story building.

Mahim Maher July 22, 2014

KARACHI: One of Karachi's most well-respected former administrators, Fahim Zaman, set the tone for the public hearing on Clifton's stalled flyover and underpasses-by walking out. But he did this not before gutting the director-general of the Sindh Environment Protection Agency, Nadeem Mughal, for sitting in the mayor's chair at the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation's city council hall.

"This is really shameless," he thundered. "This is the seat [Jamshed] Nusserwanji [Mehta] sat in," he said, referring to the city's first mayor. Either Mughal picked another place to sit or Zaman was leaving. And he did.

Zaman's departure did not, however, reduce the tension in the room as there were plenty of angry architects, lawmakers and residents who had turned up to give their objections to the project. (It was not lost on the residents that KMC had brought its staff in to take up all the seats beforehand.) The digging for the flyovers and underpass started in March and they are being paid for by a private developer who is constructing a 67-story building between Bagh Ibn-e-Qasim and the shrine of Abdullah Shah Ghazi. The project was challenged in the Sindh High Court which ordered for an environmental impact assessment (EIA) to be conducted. On Tuesday, the public hearing was held to elicit objections to it.

For the first two hours of the hearing, Syed Nadeem Arif and Saquib Ejaz Hussain of Environment Management Consultants gave presentations on their EIA. This new building is just one of many high rises that will go up in Clifton which has been made a high-density zone. But the problem is that the roads will not be able to take these traffic volumes; and KMC's solution is flyovers, including one at Neelum Colony.

As soon as the floor opened for comments after their presentation, the fury burst forth. Person after person stood up to lash out against the consultants who had painted a rosy picture of the project, saying the flyovers and underpasses were the only solution. "The only people who have supported this project are the consultants," said architect Arif Belgaumi. "There has been a hole in the ground for four months to harass people to give in to the construction. Restore the [space] to its original [shape] so no decision is taken under pressure."

An extremely angry Arif Alvi, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MNA from NA-250, said he couldn't congratulate enough the KMC and other authorities for working so fast to get the project 'approved'. His sarcasm was quickly replaced with a terrifying proclamation: "You have raped Clifton."

One of the most detailed lists of objections came from Roland DeSouza of the non-profit Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment. When he was finally given a chance to speak, he focused on the damage to the surroundings. "Five heritage sites have been affected," he said. The law says you can't build on or near these sites. Take the example of the White House in Washington, DC. You can't build a flyover next to it. KMC, Sepa, the consultants and the builder behind the project are liable to be criminally prosecuted, he added.

Others questioned how it was possible to say the Shree Ratneshwar Mahadev Temple would not be damaged when the consultant had admitted that they found that dust and plaster had fallen from the mandir's underground cave. If the drilling for the piling won't do this damage then all the vehicles passing through the underpass that runs 15 feet away certainly will. Other residents questioned the methodology of the EIA which did not specify how it would mitigate the damage. Yet others asked how KMC expected the elderly and young or infirm to climb up pedestrian bridges to reach Abdullah Shah Ghazi and the mandir and Jehangir Kothari Parade? But most of all flyovers don't solve traffic problems. This has been seen the world round. It is mass transit that is needed and apparently there is no plan for this for Clifton and DHA.

At the onset of the proceedings senior director Mohammad Athar of the KMC transport department had asked this correspondent: Tell me in one word: are you for or against the project?

If only deciding the fate of Clifton were that easy?

Published in The Express Tribune, July 23rd, 2014.