That thinking of conceivers and designers of the nation’s capital, Islamabad, has forfeited its idealism so early in the life of the new city is an unsavoury but stark reality.
This has happened not without the connivance of the very organisation that was supposed to protect ad preserve that idealism. The conceived master plan had neatly laid out as to where the residential areas will be, and where businesses and industrial units are going to be located. To ensure there were no unnecessary traffic jams, each residential sector was divided into four sub-sectors, each having its own small market. Then there were I&T areas for small-scale industrial and trading units and a separate industrial area for major manufacturing units. In the heart of each residential sector, there was to be a main market called “markaz”, and for main offices, banks and private-sector businesses there was the Blue Area.
Government offices were to be housed in the Main Secretariat and in the “markaz” centres. The ideal behind this clearly marked out master plan was that for shopping people do not have go very far from their homes and government and semi-government offices these are not scattered all over the city. One of the most pleasing aspects of the master plan was artistically brick-lined footpaths, which would invite you to walk your way to market and office. But that was not to be. The master plan has been violated with a vengeance. Till early 2016, when the Supreme Court took notice of illegal use of residential units, some 1,800 houses were being used as offices, guest houses, beauty parlours, clinics and schools. However, barring a few cases most of the houses have been vacated and returned to their permitted usage.
But where they haven’t these are the residential properties of the Pakistan Housing Authority, a government entity, in Sector G-7/1. Instead of moving to officially declared commercial areas, a few dozen have shifted to the PHA-owned flats. These B-type flats were constructed in 1998, mainly to accommodate the homeless and the low-paid. But it did not take their occupants very long to use or rent out their allocated accommodation for commercial purposes. Resultantly, now this area gives the look of a market. It remains enigmatic as to why the Pakistan Housing Authority doesn’t feel obliged to respect the Supreme Court’s verdict against illegal use of these flats. It may be now, given that the violation has been widely reported in the media.
But as to why the capital city’s master plan was allowed to be violated for so long by the Capital Development Authority, there appears to be an explanation, paradoxically having both positive and negative aspects. If the agencies tasked to ensure strict adherence to wrong use of residences should be held guilty it must also be admitted, with the advantage of hindsight, that this law was unrealistic to start with. It looks as if the conceivers and designers of Islamabad had no idea how the capital of Pakistan would grow over time. They also wrongly visualised that the city population would be divided into two distinct groups – the poor and the wealthy – and catered to their needs in line with that distinction.
Being a bad law it was bound to be misused, and it was, and perhaps will continue to be misused. It is also a fact that because of this order quite a few people have lost their livelihood, the beauty parlours have moved to the basements of commercial plazas, and quite a few schools now function in the neighbourhood of vehicle denting and painting workshops. In fact, the city is more congested today than ever before.
Not only has the city run out of its parking spaces, it has lost much of its greenery – because the Capital Development Authority has auctioned out even the small green patches in the mini-markets and allowed the footpaths to be occupied by some influential groups. Perhaps, removal of encroachments was a more pressing issue than disallowed use of homes.