LAHORE: Speakers at a seminar on Saturday argued that a large section of the population in urban centres had been excluded from decision-making in the city.
Addressing “The Right to the City – A Conference on Rights and Struggles in Urban Pakistan” organised by the Haqooq-e-Khalq Movement (HKM) at the Research and Publication Center, they said that instead of representing citizens, public authorities, such as the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), “were under the sway of big businesses and property developers”.
The also explained how the local government system had completely been “hollowed out”, which had further minimised possibilities of democratic accountability in the city’s affairs.
The speakers included Professor Ali Cheema, Professor Kamran Asdar Ali, Ammar Rashid, Tooba Syed, Ammar Ali Jan, Farooq Tariq, Maryam Hussain, Anushay Malik, Aisha Ahmad, and Ahsan Bhatti.
Rafay Alam argued the need to rethink the city’s development as a political issue that must be debated rather than leaving all decisions to the technocrats.
Professor Asdar stressed the importance of reimagining politics based on the experiences of the contemporary working class in order to expand decision-making in the city.
Dr Anushay Malik from LUMS described the history of working-class movements in Lahore and argued for rekindling their memory.
Ahsan Bhatti, a community organiser from Chungi Amar Sidhu, claimed that there were two Lahore’s; one for the elites and their families, and the other for those who could not even afford clean drinking water.
Professor Ali Cheema lamented that there was “very little” public discussion on how to build a genuinely democratic and representative city government.
Ammar Rashid stressed the need for a just housing policy and condemned the government’s decision to bulldoze katchi abadis without providing any alternative housing to the affectees.
Tooba Syed argued that the cities remained patriarchal spaces, and highlighted the importance of female participation in the struggle for more egalitarian cities.
Ammar Ali Jan urged the members to become active with the HKM and other such platforms to build a popular movement demanding the right to housing, clean drinking water, affordable health, education and transportation systems.
The meeting ended with a resolution calling on citizens to become part of the movement demanding basic services for all citizens.