The lesson for today is that Kalma spelled backwards is Amlak. Other wisdom is but around the corner for commuters who shall have the (mis)fortune to arrive at one of the more important road junctions in the provincial headquarters of the Punjab. Lahore certainly has more than its fair share of expensive embellishments, but our decision makers simply aren’t content with diverting billions towards infrastructure projects that seem to lack any empirical evidence justifying their execution. Now we must also contend with our public interest taking direct hits to the solar plexus.
As a daily user of the Kalma Chowk intersection, one has always had reason to complain about the traffic. But it doesn’t take a degree in development and planning to know that the solution doesn’t lie in concrete. Unfortunately for us, our decision makers’ prefer to use the grey matter found in twenty kilo bags to that which is between the ears. Such will be the consequences of allowing machinations of the cult of NESPAK to corrupt the seemingly noble intentions of our government. Or maybe that’s the other way around but the only certainty amidst all the puzzling questions that arise is that building the flyover will be an act of benevolence to join a growing list of extravagances that create more problems than they solve.
Readers balking at the announcement of not one but two flyovers at the junction would do well to commend the government on being doubly committed to promoting its brand of public interest. Apparently the flyover is such a good idea that they decided (or NESPAK said) to make them twice. In all the eagerness to get concrete pouring on site, the learned engineers seem not to have considered the technicalities of their bold design nor the fickleness of what one may expect to be considered professional opinion.
Although one is delighted to see provision of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along the proposed flyovers, one cannot help but recall when Enrique Penalosa from Colombia visited Lahore and lectured a large audience on the successes of a BRT system he instituted while Mayor of the Latin American city of Bogota. While it seemed the whole Punjab administration was inspired by the lecture, few are aware of how NESPAK officials skulked around the corridors of power to prevent a BRT system in Lahore and to lobby for more expressways. Now it appears everyone’s happy so it may be an opportune time to step back and review the situation.
Experts would agree that while a BRT interface is absolutely essential, in the absence of any BRT design it is folly to arbitrarily allow wide gaps along the roadway. There is also growing concern that a future BRT system would necessarily require a stop along Ferozepur Road and that the design has to make provisions for that nearer to the kerbside and not in the middle of the flyovers. It’s a shame that after spending several hundreds of millions on preparatory work for the Lahore Transport Master Plan and the Lahore Mass Transit System, the Kalma Chowk flyovers will stand like a pimple on the face of this city, and will lack any integration with a less myopic vision for the future of Lahore.
More engineering madness is expected from a government which seems to be interested only in the engineering fix. If the government was interested in real solutions, it would draw up socially sensitive traffic management plans and an incentive scheme to enforce road rules at busy intersections. And it would only have spent a fraction of what’s being put into the Kalma Chowk Project. But why go for the inexpensive social fix for all when a concrete mixer is so much more profitable for a select few? And if you thought the public interest hasn’t been pummeled enough by our government, you have another think coming.
By far the gravest injustice meted out to citizens has been non-compliance with the spirit and intendment of environmental laws of Pakistan. One would have hoped that a country that has been relying on framework environmental legislation which fails to give us green credentials would at least adhere to the few legal requirements that exist. Of these, the preliminaries require a project proponent to carry out an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to determine adverse impacts of our interventions before they are implemented. All across the world, the EIA is meant to precede any civil works and is an integral part of the planning and design stage of a project. In what may be termed as the strangest interpretation of the law, the government seems to have gotten away with carrying out an EIA “after” the project has actually commenced—invariably the final nail in the coffin of good governance and stewardship that our leaders claim to practice. As existing EIA approval procedures make the government a judge in its own cause, one can only hope that the public interest had the chance to say its Kalma while drawing its terminal breath.
The writer is a consultant on public policy.