The government of Punjab has reportedly agreed to give the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board money to repair over two dozen roads. Several questions regarding the important issue of urban management come directly into focus.
The importance of urban management cannot be underscored enough. It’s estimated that over half of Pakistan’s rapidly increasing population will live in its cities in the coming decades. With more than half the country set to live in urban areas, one can assume that Pakistan’s problems – housing, sanitation, employment, etc., and even terrorism – will increasingly become urban problems.
Under the law, cantonment boards set up to run the cantonment administration have their own budgets and source of funds.
There’s even a little-known Presidential Order of 1979–the little known but fierce Cantonments (Urban Immovable Property Tax and Entertainment Duty) Order, 1979. It “shall effect, notwithstanding anything contained in the Constitution or any other law for the time being in force,” that changes the way cantonment boards across the country collect property tax.
Unlike local governments, which receive their share of property tax after it’s been levied and collected by the province subject to a 15 percent retention fee, cantonment boards have the power to collect property tax and remit 15 percent to the government of the province in which they are situated.
The first question is, why, if cantonment boards can levy taxes and have their own incomes, is the province of Punjab handing over taxpayer’s money to the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board? Similar overlaps in jurisdiction have occurred and occur today. For example, the Traffic Engineering and Planning Agency of the Lahore Development Authority recently undertook the remodelling of roads in the Lahore Cantonment and now the Water and Sanitation Agency of the Lahore Development Authority is trying to get the Defence Housing Scheme (situated in a cantonment area) to pay for the sewage has stretched some of its drains to capacity.
Under the Pakistan Environmental Protection Act, 1997 (PEPA), all projects likely to cause an adverse environmental affect must commission environment impact assessments (EIAs) of the project and submit them for approval before the federal or provincial Environment Protection Agencies (EPAs). The road works proposed are categorised by law a project requiring an EIA, and yet none has been submitted (and, for road works and so many other polluting projects, they never are).
Former mayor of New York Ed Koch coined the phrase “NIMBY” (Not In My Back Yard) in the late 1970s to describe the attitude so many people have to development projects. NIMBY has to do with people who otherwise don’t mind neighbourhoods being torn down to make way for a much-needed overpass, as long as it’s Not-In-My-Back-Yard! In other words, development works are great, as long as they don’t occur in one’s immediate vicinity. Too often, complaints like the one above – that the government or project proponent hasn’t gotten environmental approval for a project – are dismissed as being of the NIMBY variety. This is not only wrong, it’s unfair.
The regime created by PEPA means that an EIA is a revelatory document that contains an assessment of the environmental impacts of any project. All human activity, even down to the act of breathing, causes carbon emissions and is a form of pollution. An EIA recognises this and suggests ways human activity can be changed in order to minimise environmental degradation. For a road remodelling project, for example, an EIA may contain guidelines for road workers to minimise noise and dust pollution during the project construction period.
This is for the benefit of people who live in the vicinity of the project and has nothing to do, as is all too often assumed, with granting an NOC to the project. An NOC is a permission to continue and is a binary (you either get permission to continue or you don’t), while an EIA is a direction on how to continue.
The EIA process also requires public participation. All EIAs submission to the EPAs must be brought before a public hearing. The public hearing of the EIA review is one of the unique features of Pakistan’s jurisprudence as it gives the general public the opportunity to learn of the nature of development works and to participate in a discussion on how to minimise the environmental impacts of such works. This opportunity to the common man to interact with the system is the remarkably democratic characteristic of PEPA; sadly, it is misunderstood and never applied in spirit.
According to research conducted at the University of Bangalore in India, the bitumen mix used to spray on top of road-surfaces can be replaced by another made using plastic bags. The technology has been tried out in Bangalore and, as I understand it, in parts of Delhi. Using polythene bags in the slightly more expensive than regular bitumen but, for one, the adhesiveness one achieves with plastic is better, translating to longer-lasting roadworks and, second, the process consumes about three-four tonnes of plastic bags per kilometre of road carpeted. In other words, the new process takes a huge chunk out of the solid waste produced by plastic bags, a well-known pollutant.
The problem with people who label voices raised for the enforcement of PEPA as NIMBYs is that, each time a public hearing of a road works EIA is skipped or other legal requirements are not complied with, another opportunity to introduce in a meaningful way an improvement in the road-construction technology.
Urban mismanagement of this type is endemic. In Lahore, the Lahore Development Authority, the most powerful urban authority in the city, has not yet begun the task, prescribed by its Land Use (Classification, Reclassification and Redevelopment) Rules, 2009, of classifying the city into residential, commercial, industrial, peri-urban, environmentally sensitive and historically important. This was supposed to be done within six months of the making of the rules, and this statutory time limit is not being complied with. Instead, the LDA is forcing through a “temporary” commercialisation policy that will have long-lasting affects on the future development of the city. Even more questionable is the fact that the LDA hasn’t submitted its budget for this year. According to the law, the LDA is supposed to present a budget every year. So far, we’re nearly four months into the new financial year. Someone’s got to wonder where the people at the LDA are getting their salaries from?
In other news, earlier this week, I was stopped and frisked by security guards as I dropped my daughter to school in the morning. I empathised with the school administration but objected to the fact that, in their mind, two men with metal detectors could make a difference in the event of a terror attack. Later in the day, news of the incident at the Islamic University came in and, in the evening, we were informed that the government had directed all educational institutions shut for the indefinite future.
So now where are we: We’ve got more troops along our eastern border than we have fighting part of America’s War on Terror. Our police are busy protecting VIPs, guarding government buildings and the homes of the “security elite” and manning ubiquitous check posts.
And now we’re told, because of the security situation, our children are better off at home because the state can’t protect them. I understand the security situation we’re facing, but isn’t the first duty of a state to protect the life and property of its people?
The writer is an advocate of the high court and a member of the adjunct faculty at LUMS. He has an interest in urban planning. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org