Let us beautify Pakistan
08 January, 2014
By Saeed Qureshi
Our beloved country Pakistan reels under a civic system that is out of sync with the imperatives of a modern society. It is decrepit and utterly inadequate to provide decent, modest and worthwhile living environment to the people of Pakistan. The roads and highways network is not enough to cater for fast growing movement of both travelers and freight. Traveling between the cities and within the cities in Pakistan is hazardous, slow, and unsafe.
Unlike developed societies, Pakistan at first glance, looks primitive, dirty and disorganized. From traffic to business activities nothing seems to be without sleaze and impropriety. Despite our society being deeply religious and people with religious orientation, the ethical practices in social dealings and human interaction are woefully deficient. There is always a wide gap between what we profess and what we do.
The civic code is outdated. The cities are brimming with filth, stench, encroachments, horse and bullock driven carts and animal and human waste. We have ramshackle old frames and structures of buses without necessary facilities like proper seating, door, air conditioning, heating etc. Overloading of passengers is common scene on Pakistani roads. The traffic rules are ignored by both public and the concerned departments. Traffic transport in Pakistan has ever been messy.
There are no strict codes for raising new dwellings. There is mushroom, unabated and unplanned growth of houses and shantytowns in and around all the major cities in Pakistan, choking and stultifying the already meager and insufficient utilities. The water is rationed by hours, the electric power goes off frequently, and the voltage is low and unstable. There is no well-planned or scientific method of removing garbage and waste from the lanes, roads, houses and public places in Pakistan.
Our railway is ramshackle, mismanaged, a relic of the past and starkly lacking in the modern paraphernalia as we find in the railways of the developed societies. There are countless flaws in our railway system. Our railway is in dire need of complete overhauling so as to make it modern and efficient. The railway stations have deplorable and endemic problems such as sanitation, lack of computerized communication and operation system and poor provision of facilities such as water, air conditioning, heating and reservation etc. The duel tracks are nowhere to be seen in Pakistan that if built can save enormous amount of time.
Same is the case with other public service organizations such as WAPDA, PIA, Customs, Municipal and civic organizations, Police, Courts, Postal Department, Revenue, to name a few. All these organizations and departments are deeply infested with corruption, mismanagement, inefficiency and countless shortcomings. The Judiciary, Police, bureaucracy and all other similar institutions that should serve the people in the fairest and the freest manner have remained subservient to the interests of powerful local lords, overpowering Individuals, the political mandarins and corrupt officials.
Our social sector is lowest in our national priorities. The health, education, transportation and other public related services are crippled and insufficient due to a variety of factors including paucity of funds, erroneous and faulty policy and planning and lack of vision to make them universal, accessible, organized and modern. The population is growing at an alarming rate.
Social vices like bribery, corruption, pilferage of government resources; adulteration and selling of sub-standard commodities, evasion of taxes and a host of other crimes have always been rampant. We sell adulterated food without any moral prick and without any fear of legal or social reprisals. Despite being deeply religious people lack moral fiber.
The stealing of mail, tampering with revenue records, counterfeit stamp papers, usurping public land and property are part of our morbid system that needs to be drastically operated upon and purged of all the disabilities and disorders. Expired and spurious drugs are sold unhindered without any qualms of conscience or fear of law. Hospitals lack the milk of human kindness and shorn of proper facilities for the ever-increasing patients. The inexpensive and prompt justice, timely decision making and prompt redress of pubic grievances have remained elusive.
There are no standardized procedures for conducting and regulating the civic life. Even if there are such procedures, no one bothers to follow them in order to check the mal-practices and violations in daily life such as encroachments, breach of building rules and sanitation pre-requisites as well as maintenance of private premises and public places. Complicated and unclear rules for issuance of documents such as driving licenses, passports, identity cards etc lead to graft and underhand deals for the needful. In short there is a complete moral, institutional and organizational mess in the society.
Pakistan is to be liberated from the clutches of feudal grip, corrupt mafia, pressure lobbies and special interest groups that have held our society hostage from the very beginning. These groups and powerful individuals don't allow Pakistan to functions as a liberal, free, democratic, modern, progressive and prosperous country. They hate the very concept of a civil society in Pakistan. Civil society means freedom of expression and faith, movement and pursuit of happiness in conformity with the human and fundamental rights. These groups and entities are enemies of progress and therefore of the people of Pakistan.
Pakistan is still far away from having a democratic order that is unvarnished and truly based on the popular vote and people's aspirations thanks to the intrigues of our selfish politicians. For most part of its existence, Pakistan was under the army rule, bureaucratic dispensation or quasi-democratic system. Elections in Pakistan were seldom free and fair. The National Assembly and Senate assailed by the powerful classes would not function in an independent manner and only serve the privileged sections. There is hardly any veritable accountability at any stage and in any department. Accountability in Pakistan is used for vendetta against the political contenders.
The political leadership that was in power all along has thus far miserably failed to address and resolve the myriad socio -civic, economic, political and even day-to-day problems of the people. The hapless people of Pakistan have been waiting for so long for a better time to come. It is foregone that all the leaders are birds of the same flock and lack vision, seriousness and will to transform Pakistan into a modern, liberal and prosperous state. With the abundance of natural resources, vast productive land and industrious manpower that Pakistan is endowed with, our country has the capability and potential to stand shoulder to shoulder in the comity of developed nations in a few years' span.
After more than six decades, it is crystal clear that the privileged and elitist classes that have been running the country via plutocracy, oligarchy or aristocracy, are neither capable nor sincere about good governance. The reason for their inability to earnestly serve the nation and country is that they are not mindful of the common man's problems nor are they interested in ameliorating the plight of the citizens whose predominant majority is suffering from bad governance. A socio-civic revolution is therefore indispensable to improve the quality of life in Pakistan. Let us explore ways and measures by which we can beautify Pakistan and make it look like a state of the modern times.
Removal of encroachments
It is utterly imperative to cleanse Pakistan of filth, traffic hazards and unchecked mushrooming encroachments in streets, bazaars, lanes and roads. We are all witnesses to a repulsive spectacle of khoka or cart sellers covering footpaths and portions of roads hindering the smooth flow of traffic and movement of pedestrians. This distasteful social malaise is a common feature all over Pakistan. The main shop owners rent out the front space of their shops to the rehri or cart sellers who squat and thus block the pathways meant for the walkers and shoppers. This foul scene is not only nauseating but an outrageous, sheer violation of the municipal laws.
In 80s the concept of "Friday Bazaars" or weekly "flea markets" or "traders' village" was floated from Islamabad by a very visionary the then Chairman of CDA late Ali Nawaz Gardezi. That idea in subsequent times was extended to other town and cities. The perception behind these weekly bazaars was to confine the small time retail sellers or so called stall or kiosk sellers to one limited place sparing the rest of the population from the encroachments and ensuing noise and filth created by their presence.
Yet this splendid scheme was observed more by breach than compliance. The business of the road-side sellers did not diminish nor was it curbed or eliminated by the city administrations. The cart sellers sell their merchandise for six days on the city roads and in common bazaars and the seventh day in the Friday Bazaars. Thus they benefit from both the venues. The allotment of a slot in such weekly Bazaars costs money to be given to the city officials. Those who make biggest offers are given a place. But usually many slots are owned by one big wealthy trader or contractor who employs workers to run those lucrative spots.
We have seen here in Europe and in North America that the cart sellers can operate within the confines of a closed shopping mall and on specific allotted places. They cannot think of even moving an inch from the specified place for fear of heavy fines. Same strict yardsticks apply to the flea markets or the so called farmers or traders' villages.
Now besides ubiquitous encroachments and widespread obstructions there are animal driven Tongas (two wheeled horse driven coach) that ply all over the cities creating worst and repugnant filth because of the dung dropped freely and openly by the horses. Do we live in a civilized society where animals and humans cohabit in such sleazy conditions?
Now these eyesores and traffic hazards have got to be removed by a strict compliance and rigorous application of the city civic laws. Are our municipalities and local body administrators blind to the very fact that the occupation of footpaths is illegal and no shopkeeper is supposed to enhance or protrude his business beyond the threshold?
So to begin with a declaration should be issued by the city administrations for vacation of the footpaths within a week. Thereafter the stall owners and the shopkeepers leasing out their front portions should be heavily fined or their business closed for a certain period of time. The roving city magistrates should arrest the law breakers and impose fines on the spot.
In 80s when I was working in the Pakistan embassy in Bucharest (Romania), a modern bus system was operative there. Romania was part of the socialist bloc and was relatively closed and poor. But public services were decent. Unfortunately after 30 years, Pakistan has failed to reach the level of a poor socialist country in matter of civic amenities.
In our major cities, the Tongas (horse driven coach) must be banned and replaced by the taxis or buses that can be given to these people on easy installments. The big corporations would willingly invest in centralized taxis system because of the huge dividends in return. There should be countless investors ready to finance such projects and also operate these by taking cue from other countries where such modern systems are in vogue. The municipalities should ensure that these operate by laid- down rules and standards. It is necessary to send batches of civic experts to the developed countries in order to learn the systems.
Why don't our city planners banish the horse driven carts and buggies and work out a decent plan for a railway, bus or taxi service within the cities. Are these systems not working elsewhere in other countries that we are unaware of their utility and the monumental ease and comfort these provide to the commuters? The rickshaws need to be replaced with centralized controlled taxi system. The taxis or wagons should not be ramshackle or run-down lacking heating or air-conditioning system. The small yet makeshift inexpensive bus stops that we see elsewhere in the world can be built on all the routes. It is not a rosy picture or a utopia that I am projecting. Such civic facilities are indispensable part of the city and civic life in many other countries.
Why the city managers are not conscious of the unhygienic atmosphere and pest-infected and germ-ridden air caused by such obsolete and clumsy means of transportation. We have seen the city roads spattered and covered with horses' droppings and there is no will nor way-out to rub off this filth periodically until the rain washes these superficially.
Graffiti on walls must be banned
There is a dire need to cleanse the walls in the cities from graffiti. Graffiti has spoiled the beauty of the cities with life size scribed business deals or herbal prescriptions or announcement of the public meetings. These writings remain on the walls as long as the walls remain intact. If one travels from one corner of Pakistan to the extreme end and even within the cities one would find the walls around the roads covered and plastered with ugly writings and graphics. This has got to be stopped with full force of law. There should be allocated places or enclaves for display or publicity of commodities or businesses. Any perpetrators that flout the graffiti rules must be heavily fined and run the risk of his business wound up by the city management.
Keeping of animals in the cities must be banned
We should know that Pakistan is one of those socially backward countries where animals and the beasts of burden live along the human beings. The cows, the buffaloes, the goats, the horses, the donkeys and dogs are tied in the streets causing not only horrendous pollution and stink but horrific traffic hazards. The civil authorities have utterly failed to curb these ugly facets of our cities. On religious festivals such as the big Eid or the sacrificial Eid, all the open grounds and vacant places look like stables and livestock farms. This tendency of using public places in the name of religious rituals has to be forcibly curbed. The keeping of animals must be banned definitively. The milk animals like buffaloes should not be allowed within the precincts of the cities. Instead these should be kept in the rural and countryside farmlands. The milk and dairy products industry should be organized on modern lines as one can see in developed courtiers. The slaughtering of chicken and poultry in the shops and in full public view has to be forbidden. The frying of meat and snacks openly should be declared as a felony.
Business and shopping centers
Most of the shops, car centers, offices, restaurants, should be relocated out of the residential areas to business enclosures, shopping malls or centers. This would ease the burden on the traffic flow and provide a great relief to the resident to live without the din and noise and sleaze caused by the Bazaars. Such a demarcation already exists in Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan Islamabad. The affluent business community could build such shopping centers of places are marked. The construction of various shopping enclaves would bring additional revenues to the city governments.
A centralized sewerage system in Cities
Till such time that a centralized sewerage and toilet system can be created in the cities, there should be public toilets built in all neighborhoods. Those should be supervised and maintained round the clock. These should have the modern sewerage and scientific systems to dispose of waste, sewage and excrement. The constant running water should be ensured at such public bathrooms. I have seen these public bathrooms all over Tehran three decades ago. The supervisors will have to keep a constant eye so that these cannot be misused by criminal elements. In these civic schemes, the private sector, entrepreneurs and business corporations also can play a vital role. The city management can charge a monthly tax to defray the expenses and to pay to the providers of these facilities.
Nevertheless, it's time for a paradigm shift from manual makeshift latrines in the houses to a centralized sewerage system in the cities. A few decades back in the United States and also in most of Europe the situation existed. But now all the rural and urban areas have piped water supply and centralized sewerage systems. One can imagine how profound this change can be in lifting the quality of life and refining the environment in our cities. If the government doesn't have funds, the private sector can be involved in laying this system in the big cities first and correspondingly expanded to other cities with the time passage.
The purpose of all these watershed measures is to abandon a primitive mode of living and step into a modern life-style with the enormous attendant benefits and facilities that it offers. A massive, far reaching and stupendous planning will have to be undertaken for this monumental shift on the national level. This dream can come true if our leaders, decision makers and even public is ready for such a giant leap in doing away with a rampant socio-civic backwardness and live a great life resplendent with the boons of the modern era. This could stop or reduce the urge of the people to go out of Pakistan to other countries with excellent civic and social services.
This kind of soci-civic revolution would be possible if the prevailing municipal system is transformed into the Latest County and city form of local government where the top office bearers such as mayors and members are elected by the people. They remain under the obligation to serve the people in the best possible manner in order to win the fresh mandate on the basis of their commendable record of service.
The writer is a senior journalist, editor of Diplomatic Times and a former diplomat.