Chief Minister Muhammad Shahbaz Sharif of Punjab is an unpredictable man with great vigor and a substantiated strength of innovative potentials; especially when the issue of merit and rule of law surfaces, he forgives no body. During his first tenure and Punjab Chief Ministership, he didn’t let off even his maternal uncle whose encroached commercial property at Lahore’s famous Beadon Road was demolished by the LDA. This was a strong message to all high and mighty that now onwards no one will be above the law.
After coming to power for the second time, Shahbaz Sharif has tried to keep up his reputation of a hard task master. But now he has certain limitations for being a partner of yesterday’s political foe, PPP in Punjab. Despite that, he has kept his reputation and when the issues of illegal high-rises surfaced, he decided to prove his mettle and ordered the LDA and the city government to go ahead. Consequently, Lahorites are witnessing a unique operation, carried out by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) in the provincial metropolis, against the illegally constructed high-rises.
It is launched against the most powerful of the society- the high-rise builders who have built multi-storey plazas in different commercial areas of the city and then sold them out to the unaware buyers without fulfilling even building byelaws’ requirements or caring for the structural fine-tuning, by greasing the palms of the corrupt elements in the LDA. But the storey does not end here; building a high-rise in Lahore or anywhere else is not an easy issue, you have to go to a little about dozen departments for various services and every department tries to ‘seize the moment’ with their objections and looming threats of action for some trivial deviations.
However, what is more alarming is the nagging collusion of entrenched land builders with the political clique of past regime; as both were united in their spiteful looting spree in Lahore. In fact, the ‘Chaudhris of Gujrat’ led PML(Q) was especially favorable to such builders as former Chief Minister Ch. Pervaiz Elahi flouted every rule and policy to please the ribald elements enjoined with him for their petty gains. In this process, he even granted permissions to construct plazas in grave violation of law and no construction standard was ever maintained by the affluent builders having suitable political connections in the power corridors. This resulted in roads congestion and discoloring of the city skyline; and Lahore started to appear as a baneful shanty town full with traffic jams and having no place for parking. The plazas were also built without any measure for public safety or fire fighting system.
Not contending with this, no attention was ever paid by such builders to the provision of public utilities in these plazas; nor such basic needs as parking space and mosque were met and the licentious owners of illegal plazas, in their lust for more money, also constructed shops on the space reserved for Mosques.
What is more distressing is that the builders’ mafia not only ruined the future prospects of this multi billion dollar industry in Pakistan but also put the lives of hundreds of shopkeepers and visitors who could succumb to any eventuality like that of Oct. 8 2005 earthquake. Had this sector been developed on modern lines along with ensuring the structural amplifications, the results would have been different today.
However, the Supreme Court of Pakistan, taking a suo-moto notice of the situation, constituted a 3-member commission under Justice Riaz Kiyani in 2007 to look into the matter and give suitable recommendations to improve the past mistakes.
In the light of the commission’s report and the directions of the apex court of Pakistan, the Punjab government gave green signal to Lahore city district government and the LDA to start legal action against the imprecise high-rises built in blatant violation of law. The LDA has identified as many as 400 buildings of various categories in its controlled area in the metropolis for action and demolition drive is already underway. Meanwhile, LDA has suspended 24 officials, including the chief metropolitan planner, the town planning director, and the former chief town planner for their alleged involvement in allowing illegal construction of high-rises in the city. The authority has also initiated departmental action against suspended officials under Punjab Employees Efficiency and Discipline Act, 2006. On the other hand, Punjab Chief Minister has also announced that the staff of LDA and City District Government, involved in the construction of illegal high-rises, will be awarded deterrent punishment so that in future no powerful could dare to violate law.
For the demolition of illegal high-rises, Lahore Development Authority has engaged 20 private firms, accelerating its ongoing drive against illegally constructed plazas as well as for removing alterations made in such premises in violation of the approved building plans. A labour force of more than 300 employees has been carrying out round-the-clock demolition campaign launched by the LDA since December 6, last year.
National media and the civil society have welcomed the action against the high and mighty builders but it is surprising that hue and cry is being raised on the demolition of illegal plazas by Q League, Imran Khan and by some political pundits who wants to cash in on the situation. But it would have been much better if those who are involved in propaganda against the operation against illegal high-rises raise their voice for the poor victims.
It is encouraging that the Shahbaz Sharif has announced that the interests of widows, orphans and middle class shop keepers, duped into purchasing shops in these plazas and have been kept in the dark about their illegal status, will be fully safeguarded. He maintained that those who are earning their livelihood from such shops will be protected against financial losses. Shahbaz Sharif has again set a leadership benchmark that daunts the political class as a whole. His governance style has taken the entrenched mafias and vested interests by huge shock.
It is encouraging that Punjab government is ensuring even action against plaza mafia. This is a strong message to the powerful builders in the country that no one is above the law and their D-Day can come any day. But, it is only possible in a democratic set up that gubernatorial affluent taste the power of the law. And this drive has realized that the law reigns higher than the high-rises in Lahore.
Lahore Cantt., Pakistan