When skewed high-rises discolor the city skyline – by Qudrat Ullah

With the tremendous trade and industrial progress of the United States in the last quarter of 19th century, the private sector turned to the idea of high-rises when prime urban lands became scanty and pricey. First ten-storey high-rise was developed by Home Insurance Building way back in 1885 in Chicago, USA and it was considered as one of the architectural wonders of the contemporary age.

Like elsewhere, high-rises acquired much popularity on account of accommodating more business & trade offices and saving valuable urban space, all over the world. Particularly high-rise developing culture set the high-pace in Lahore during last two decades when there was little adherence to the building bye-laws, so big plazas mushroomed rapidly without any urban planning. Besides numerous illegal multi-storey plazas, there are also some buildings where approval for few floors was obtained but, while starkly ignoring the aspect of human safety or provision of proper parking facility, additional floors were constructed, by the powerful plaza builders, with the connivance of the corrupt officials of LDA, backed by the then political figures. Actually, illegal multi-storey buildings in different cities of the Punjab province, including the provincial metropolis, are the result of an unholy alliance between the corporate fat cows bent upon earning quick bucks and dishonest officials of the departments concerned. Furthermore, it was easy job for building contractors to earn hefty profits by building plazas with little regard to quality of material and infrastructure. The fall of Margalla Towers in Islamabad during the October 8, 2005 earthquake, is a tragic reminder of this mindset. With the passage of time, unchecked commercialization of residential areas in big cities proved the real fag end.

The urban planning got more worsened during the corrupt regime of Gen. Pervaiz Musharraf when the troika of plaza developers, city planners and political flunkeys, especially in Lahore, joined hands to cash in on the good fortune by every possible way. Relevant rules and bye-laws were relaxed to benefit the chosen one. Lust of a few high and mighty resulted in haphazard rather illegal construction of multi-storey buildings at every big road, which completely changed the natural landscape of Lahore. Moreover, safety features were kept in view in the construction of high-rise buildings, which could result in a tragedy in case of any powerful jolt.

The Lahorites are paying the big price of this ugly commercialism with their troubled daily life as the builders and city mafias have turned the once beautiful “city of gardens” into a nauseating commercial zone; occupied with unplanned jumbo plazas, having little spaces for parking and diaphanous alleyways failing to accommodate the visiting crowd. It may be added here that 12 percent front space is required to accommodate parking. Due to the lack of this, the city malls remain jam-packed with shopping enthusiasts, often finding no place for parking.

It was in this taut situation that Chief Justice of the apex court of Pakistan, while taking a suo moto notice of the untoward situation, imposed ban on multi-storey buildings to put right the already worsened situation and to develop composite strategy for future commercialization. A high powered Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice, Riaz Kiani was set up by the Supreme Court of Pakistan to take a detailed view of the situation. This Commission undertook detailed examination of the plazas’ growth, identified violations and recommended the proper action plan. After this, the SCP directed the Punjab Government to go ahead to improve the situation.

According to the report prepared by the Commission, complete and partial razing of some 18 high-rise buildings in the provincial capital has been recommended. Other than this, the Commission has also proposed complete and partial demolition of buildings constructed on plot number 16, Civic Center, New Garden Town, plot number 81, Ali Block, New Garden Town and plot number 10, Civic Center, New Garden Town. It has also been pointed out that the top story of Mega Tower has been constructed without any approval, while three floors of Ashrafi Towers, four floors of Rehman Towers, four floors of Hassan Tower, two floors of Jeff Heights, two floors of Harmain Tower and two floors of Salar Tower were also constructed illegally and without the approval of LDA authorities.

In compliance with the directions of the apex court, Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif has directed the LDA and the city district government to formulate a comprehensive and effective system for checking the construction of illegal multi-storey buildings in the province, ensuring that no plaza could be constructed without proper construction plan and observance of relevant bye-laws.

It is a good omen that the Punjab government has termed the construction of plazas in violation of rules and regulations a crime and in addition to taking stern action against such elements, an effective strategy will now be adopted so that no such monstrous structure could be developed unlawfully in future. LDA has identified as many as 400 illegal buildings in its control area in Lahore for taking action.

The Chief Minister Punjab has also ordered formation of a committee for such low-end plazas and buildings where minor violations have been committed and poor people are earning their livelihood. Under his direction, a separate policy will be evolved for action against such structures. Meanwhile, various circles of society and the national media have expressed their satisfaction over the operation against multi-storey buildings as no political pressure is accepted and mighty builders of the past are treated equally before the law. Punjab Government has asked LDA and city government to submit a timeframe for action, after categorization of the plazas, which are to be completely or partially demolished in the provincial metropolis.

In the light of policy guidelines of the government, action is being taken against unlawfully constructed multi-storey plazas expeditiously and services of 20 firms, having necessary skills and machinery, have been hired for this purpose. City district government has also set up a separate wing for action against illegal constructions and measures are been taken to purge the department of corrupt and inefficient elements who failed in the past to keep a close check on the mushrooming of high-rises.

There is no doubt that illegal multi-storey buildings have badly disfigured the once beautiful landscape of the provincial metropolis and the elements involved in the construction of such shoddy edifices deserve no leniency and action should be taken against illegal plazas without caring for any pressure. The Punjab Government should also improve its control over city planning and relevant officials should be made to work more efficiently and honestly. The Supreme Court of Pakistan has again proved that it is the true defender of people’s rights and now no one is above the law. The message of the apex court is crystal-clear, loud and builders cannot ignore it. The general public response has been good and they have termed it a step in the right direction which would help in improving the city planning.

Thanks to the Supreme Court of Pakistan, the city skyline is being reshaped to accommodate beauty and public confidence.

This is the real essence of democracy we were waiting for.

Lahore Cantt., Pakistan



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