Karachi’s business leaders have urgently called for the formulation of a comprehensive master plan to address the city’s deteriorating road infrastructure. Recognising the pivotal role of smooth roads in fostering economic growth, these leaders stress the need for a strategic approach to improve transportation efficiency and accessibility.

Well-maintained roads, they argue, are crucial for facilitating the movement of goods and people, reducing transportation costs, and increasing overall productivity. The ripple effect extends to attracting investments, stimulating trade, and enhancing economic activity. Improved connectivity is seen as a catalyst for development in both urban and rural areas, creating a plethora of opportunities for businesses and communities alike.

The business leaders advocate for an approach akin to enterprise diplomacy, where diplomatic skills are employed to navigate the complexities of the global business environment. They stress the importance of building partnerships, resolving conflicts, and addressing regulatory challenges as integral components of economic statecraft.

Chairman of All Karachi Tajir Ittehad (AKTI), Atiq Mir highlights the severe impact of dilapidated road infrastructure on local businesses. Increased transportation costs, supply chain delays, and vehicle damage, he argues, escalate operational expenses for businesses, affecting their competitiveness and profitability. Additionally, unreliable transportation infrastructure deters potential investors and customers, hindering economic activities and potentially leading to a decline in local business growth.

Mir said that revamped road infrastructure could particularly benefit small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) by improving transportation efficiency. Reduced transit times and enhanced connectivity enable faster movement of goods, ultimately reducing logistical costs for SMEs. The creation of a more conducive atmosphere for markets to operate and thrive is seen as a direct result of better roads.

The current state of affairs is attributed to a lack of coordination among government departments responsible for road construction, gas lines, sewerage, and water supply. “When the city government was functional, significant progress was lacking. During Waseem Akhtar’s tenure as Karachi mayor, various obstacles impeded his work. However, since Barrister Murtaza Wahab assumed the mayoral role, development efforts continue to be in a state of suspension.

The persistent issues of dishonesty, criminal negligence, and a lack of will within the Sindh government contribute to the deterioration of the city’s roads. Historically, despite receiving substantial grants—amounting to Rs10 billion and Rs20 billion—Karachi has not witnessed visible improvements. The city has become a victim of corruption within local government departments.

A glaring absence of a master plan further exacerbates the situation in Karachi. Departments responsible for road construction or repair operate independently, leading to a lack of coordination. This disjointed approach is evident when one department constructs or repairs a road, only for another to lay gas, sewerage, or water supply lines. The result is dilapidated roads, particularly affecting markets and bazaars.”

Mirza Tariq, a supplier of confectionery and food items, provides firsthand accounts of the poor conditions of key roads in Karachi. He points to specific sections, including Shahjehan Avenue, Water Pump Chowrangi to People’s Chowrangi, and People’s Chowrangi to Sakhi Hassan, as well as sections of Nishter Road, Jehangir Road, and roads in Lyari, Malir, Korangi, and Landhi. Tariq lamented the higher cost of vehicle maintenance compared to transportation costs due to the state of these roads.

Karachi Citizens’ Forum (KCF) Convenor Nargis Rahman said, “The actions of government officials in Karachi can be described as merely cosmetic. The main highways and thoroughfares suffer due to a thin layer of poor construction material, exacerbated by heavy vehicular traffic and a collapsed sewerage system. The investment in road infrastructure is inadequate, leading to substantial losses.

The consequences extend beyond damaged roads, impacting the health and productivity of commuters, including staffers, traders, students, and women. The overall well-being of the public is compromised, resulting in a trust deficit in government services. Despite the evident challenges in road conditions, there is an ironic lack of citizen complaints against the substandard services provided by the government bodies. This situation leaves everyone as a victim of malpractice and contributes to a collective loss.”

Riazuddin, a leading industrialist and former president of the Site Association of Industry (SAI), called for the implementation of a master plan for the entire city. He stressed that the prime responsibility of the Sindh government is to allocate funds for infrastructure, eliminate corruption, improve construction materials, and ensure the functionality of the traffic engineering bureau of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA). He lamented the disproportionate allocation of funds, and alleged that only 30% to 40% are spent on roads while the remainder is pocketed.

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Highlighting specific instances, Riazuddin pointed to the main Mangopir Road, reconstructed three years ago, where major chunks are already broken. He attributed the inability of contractors to build roads with proper construction materials to pervasive cuts and kickbacks, leading to compromised quality. He deemed a comprehensive revamping of infrastructure as essential, requiring a redesign of Karachi’s master plan, especially in areas with informal settlements (Katchi abadis).

Leading builder and town planner Hanif Gohar, former chairman of the Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan (ABAD), underscored the need for honest institutional commitment and merit-based awards for road contracts. He stressed the potential for gradual improvement if institutions work honestly and road contracts are awarded based on merit.

While some road schemes are managed by the Sindh Works and Services Department, the majority fall under the jurisdiction of the Sindh local government and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), with support from other authorities.

A senior official from KMC provided details on the condition of anonymity, stating, “There are approximately 200 Annual Development Programme (ADP) schemes for road infrastructure in Karachi. The KMC has allocated around Rs1,500 million for road-related projects since the significant flood of 2022 up to the present date. However, approximately Rs4,000 million is needed to revamp or repair the dilapidated roads under the jurisdiction of the KMC. The KMC oversees a vast network of 106 main thoroughfares, including Shahrah-e-Faisal, M A Jinnah Road, Shahrah-e-Pakistan, and others.

The inadequate sewerage system and blocked storm drains pose significant challenges, causing damage to roads and impacting various sections of the city’s arteries. A proper sewerage system and well-maintained storm drains are essential to safeguard roads from deterioration.”

Another official mentioned that KMC has not received a single instalment of the allocated budget for the fiscal year 2023-2024, which amounts to approximately Rs3.6 billion annually. This budget is distributed into four instalments and provided on a quarterly basis. Despite the delay in budget disbursement, the KMC is utilising its own earnings to fund minor road projects.

Regarding the development schemes for road infrastructure in Karachi, a senior official from the Sindh Works and Service Department stated that there are four categories of schemes. These include four ongoing improvement schemes, one ongoing construction scheme, one new construction scheme, and three pre-stressed bridges. The total approved cost for all nine schemes is Rs3,109.322 million.

A resident of Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Phase-V main Khayaban-e-Bahria expressed concerns, stating, “The gas utility stopped the old line and laid a new line two months back. However, they could not connect the new line to the system. As a result, residents in this affluent area have been dealing with clouds of dust and broken roads for approximately two months due to ongoing work for the installation of gas, telephone, and sewage lines successively.”

Dean Faculty of Architecture and Sciences at NED University of Engineering and Technology, Prof Dr Noman Ahmed called for a comprehensive road condition survey to identify defects and plan a phased rehabilitation programme. He underscored the importance of including rehabilitation projects in budget proposals and developing a strategy for scientific and proper road repairs. Ahmed identified collapsed sewerage systems, poor construction materials, increased vehicular traffic, defective road design, and deteriorating drainage systems as the main issues contributing to poor infrastructure.

As preparations for the next year’s budget loom, Ahmed advocated for a strategy to initiate scientific road repairs, benefiting all Karachiites. Moreover, he said that traffic police play a crucial role in monitoring the diverse dynamics of vehicular traffic situations. Their role extends to informing commuters about traffic information services, providing details about under-construction roads, and suggesting alternative routes to avoid traffic congestion. He pointed out that in foreign countries, traffic police operate an FM channel to keep travellers updated, and a similar pilot channel was previously introduced in the country. He argued the need to popularise such channels again for the benefit of the public.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 6th, 2024.

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