Karachi: Eminent architect and town planner Arif Hasan made the startling disclosure on Tuesday that 8,000 acres of amenity plots, including a large number of parks, have been occupied in the metropolis between 1986-87 and 2006-07.
Delivering a lecture on “Karachi – The Evolution of the City” at the University of Karachi (KU), under the aegis of the KU General History Department, Hasan said that 50.5 per cent of city’s population lives below the poverty line, adding that the poor were being pushed out of the city increasingly “and eight people are being forced to live in one room”.
He said 75 per cent of the residents of Karachi work in the informal sector, the unemployment rate in the city has reached to the tune of 17.56 per cent, and hawkers in Saddar alone pay Rs12 million as “Bhatta” (protection money or extortion) every month.
No other city has changed like Karachi, Hasan said, adding that Karachi became a high-density, multi-ethnic and multi-class city after the creation of Pakistan in 1947 when it absorbed the influx of immigrants from India and paved the way for the flowering of a nascent culture. “There was a time when writers and painters existed in Muhajir Colony along with working class people,” he mentioned. “Karachi’s old city has one of the most beautiful colonial architecture.”
The evolution of Karachi goes back to the 18th Century. “The importance of the city is essentially due to its harbour which has attracted people for centuries,” he said. Before the modern Karachi Port was established, there was another port called Kharak Bandar in Hub in the vicinity of Karachi but in 1729, it got silted up after heavy rains. Then came a “fortified settlement” on 35 acres in Karachi in Kharadar and Mithadar. “The history of Karachi, however, goes back to ancient times because there is a temple of Mahadev in Clifton that has been mentioned in Mahabharta,” he said. “Then we have Ram Bagh (now Aram Bagh) and it is said it was named so because Ram and Sita spent a night there”.
Hasan said Karachi has at least 14 names and within the city there are lots of pre-British shrines indicating that there were settlements here even before the arrival of colonialists. He pointed that Britain occupied Karachi essentially to stop the Russians from having access to warm waters and the city became the centre of military activity after its annexation. He said after the occupation there was development of port and railways. In 1868, Karachi became the largest exporter of wheat and cotton in India. In 1901-11 the major Punjab-Sindh irrigation schemes were completed and in 1914-22 Karachi became the headquarters for British intervention in Central Asia while in 1924 it had the first airport in India, he added.
Much of the earlier buildings, such as old fort of Manora, are pre-British and old quarters still exist as “Thanas”. The first major intervention in the city was made in 1921 when its expansion took place and Parsi Colony and Frere Road were developed. In 1947, a tramway was linked to all parts of the city. In 1947, Karachi’s population was merely 450,000 but it shot up to 1,137,000 in 1951.
In 1952 the government invited a Swedish firm to build a capital in Karachi and it planned a university as it exists today. However, there was student agitation in 1953 that “toppled three governments”. The student agitation of 1953 had a very great impact on planning. In 1958, after General Ayub Khan staged a coup, the services of a Greek planner were hired for Karachi’s re-settlement plan and two satellite colonies namely New Karachi and Korangi were established, he said.
As a result of the establishment of satellite colonies, Saddar became a transit point for transportation and its degradation started. Thereafter Karachi Master Plan 1975-85 came into being and it was “a superb plan and dealt with every thing” but was put on hold in 1977 due to political upheaval. “Had that plan been implemented, we would have been living in a quite different city,” he remarked.
In 2000 came another Karachi Development Plan whose preparation cost a hefty Rs470 million. The plan was prepared at a time when Karachi’s civic needs were being taken care of by the informal sector and the plan was never approved officially.
Hasan said that unfortunately, the politics of Pakistan, especially that of Karachi, were built on the premise that the city have a strategic location. “Only people’s resistance can bring about a change,” he remarked.
He said that the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) was going to help but it would cater to the needs of only two per cent of the population and should be converted into a bus-way. He disclosed that 78 per cent of KCR track has been occupied by formal sector, including buildings such as the