Over the last few years the symptoms of development in Lahore have been the unfinished grey structures, houses turned into plazas, debris of bricks, cement and demolished rubble. The saga of turning Lahore into Paris is marred with poor urban planning, miserable intra Government departmental coordination, untidy civil engineering and above all brazen disregard of laws.
Almost the over-night growth of highrise buildings has rapidly transformed the construction pattern of Lahore. Mixed use commercial buildings involve astounding financial stakes. The developers greedy for mega profits from their super-structures completely disregard the inevitable requirements of public safety and security. The sporadic conversion of residential plots on the main roads, more particularly on the famous Main Boulevard where previously 8 to 10 Kanals of land have now been converted into multi storied buildings that has correspondingly created problems of traffic gridlocks, inadequate water supply, incapacitated sewerage facility and above all security of the lives of people using the building and of those in adjoining properties and areas.
The Division Bench of Supreme Court of Pakistan (SC) while dealing with mixed use high rise buildings of Lahore stated that generally “an investor/builder constructs a multi-storied high riser; sells the shops and the residential apartments to the public and disappears.” On the role of Lahore Development Authority (LDA), the SC was horrified to notice that the Building Regulation Laws made by LDA itself were completely ignored. Apparently, the Town Nazims were approving construction of high-rise buildings without due process to assess and ensure structural stability and environmental concerns.
By middle of 2007 there were at least 1500 high-rise buildings in the city that were constructed or were under construction without approval. This staggering number alone reveals the alarming level of threat posed by these desi skyscrapers.
The SC in reaction appointed a Commission under the Chairmanship of Justice (Retd) Riaz Kiyani, whose sole task was to inspect all such high-rise buildings and submit an exception report. Renowned architect Kamil Khan Murtaza was also one of the members of this Commission. Usually, the building plans requiring approval from LDA easily pass the departmental litmus test. Bribery and corruption works. You just pay the fine if all else fails for the extra floors that you construct illegally. The SC also took notice of this conduct. In case of Salar Center, the Court after satisfaction in regards to the stability of the structure withheld demolition of the two unauthorized floors of Salar Center by imposing a penalty of 50 million rupees. The High Level Design Committee of LDA generally allows the construction of more
than 3 story buildings if the following 11 stipulated conditions are satisfied:
In 2007, the SC ordered the demolition of illegally constructed structure of Masood Hospital at the risk and expense of the owner. Some of the other high rise buildings questioned by the Apex Court were Ahad Plaza, Garden Towers, Commercial Plaza at the junction of Beaton Road/ Cooper Road, 83-Garden Block, Alamgir Towers, Software Technology Park, Big City, Raja Sahib, Liberty Gate, Al-Hafeez Shopping Mall, China Center and Gold Mine. Unfortunately, the effectiveness of laws is wasted in execution. The culture of lawlessness in our society and callous lack of concern are primarily responsible for poor law enforcement. The pressing need of the hour is not to discourage and deter the construction of high-rise buildings but to install a sustainable system of monitoring and modern civil engineering/architectural mechanism.
LDA should also take all stakeholders on board by arranging seminars, workshops and sensitize them of the vital human environmental concerns in raising big structures. Since such buildings involve specialized labor, the local labor should also be trained to develop their skills and expertise. The buyers on the other hand must show due diligence in regards to the safety of the structure of such buildings. Professional demolition companies should in particular emphasize on the difficult task of debris management and disposal. The environmental hazards are so colossal that ignoring this reality may cause a major catastrophe. There is also a collective need to create public awareness about the growing lack of space and its everyday use. With population increasing at an alarming rate, high-rise buildings are the only way of optimal utilization of land. It is imperative that the Government, investors, builders, courts and public at large collectively take into account the need for implementation of codes of conduct that ensures the raising of strong and safe buildings. Else, it is better to scrap the unsafe skyscrapers.
Ali Raza Shah is a practicing lawyer and a former Youth Minister of Law, Human Rights & Parliamentary
Affairs, serving as a Member of the first ever Youth Parliament of Pakistan. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
This article was originally published in the print edition of Valuemag, issue 1, May 2008.