Whither Development?

There’s a lot of development planned for Lahore over the course of the next few years. There’s an IMAX cinema under construction where we once had the Doongi ground next to M. M. Alam Road. The Pearl Continental’s planning to add a 60 storey building on the Mall Road, and there have been reports of how the Inner City will have a monorail by the end of 2007.

In Garden Town, near where I live, an Emirates-based company called Emaar is planning a huge commercial complex, complete with cinema, five star hotel, shoppping mall etc. The land where this is being built has been lying empty for years, and was home, about 20 years ago, to a bus depot. The thing is, however, that this land was/is also home to a fairly large squatter settlement. Three months ago, when the land was acquired by Emaar, and when it was found that the Chaudhries were taking a personal interest in the project, all the settlers were evicted. The bulldozers came tearing in overnight and without any due process whatsoever, an entire community was uprooted.

Over the past few weeks, with construction having not yet begun, the settlers have been trickling back in. Living in little more than tents, these people represent the poorest of the poor, with no access to any kind of proper sanitation or electricity. As soon as the rains end, however, and as soon as the honourable Chief Minister is reminded by his little Arab friends that they have a deadline to meet, the bulldozers will be back. This time, however, the community will not return.

The government, however, doesn’t care. Instead of making any attempt whatsoever to actually solve the root problem and help these people, it is content to use its coercive powers to make matters worse. Waxing eloquently on the constitution and private property rights, it continually seeks to protect the interests of the small minority who stand to benefit from projects such as this one. Never mind the fact that property relations in Pakistan, a legacy of the colonial era, have never taken the poor into account. Gloss over the absence of any kind of social saftey net or programme designed to soften the blow for those displaced. The problem is structural, and actually solving it would require a commitment, on the part of the government, to institute reform that would, for once, cater to the majority. Far from doing anything like that, however, there isn’t even any effort to provide for a band-aid, so to speak.

Given the history of the state in Pakistan, this doesn’t come as a surprise at all. What’s really saddening, however, is that noone seems to care. There is no outcry, and there is no protest. What we do see, however, are people in the neighbourhood exulting amidst rising property prices, and rejoicing in the knowledge that an eyesore will be gone.

When the shopping malls and cinemas are finally ready, in all their glittering glory, there will be no thought given to the fact that the land they stand upon was once the last symbolic refuge of a marginalised majority struggling to survive in a system historically designed to be weighted against them. When the McDonald’s wrappers and Coke cans hit the ground, there will be no mention of how the cost of one such meal would have probably been equal to the weekly income of an entire family that had once lived there.

They will be forgotten and ignored, as they always have been.

Shopping malls, IMAX theatres, luxury hotels, and monorails. Designer clothing outlets, fast food franchises, and BMW showrooms. This is development. But for who, and at what cost?

4 Comments so far

  1. misha (unregistered) on July 23rd, 2005 @ 2:30 pm

    A very valid point. What good is an IMAX in a country where most of the population lives below the poverty line?

  2. Mars (unregistered) on July 26th, 2005 @ 3:53 am

    Great post, and I hope this spurs everyone of us to try for a positive change. The scenario is the same in D.H.A., or like you said in any part of town, where bare-foot kids pick trash for a living in front of glitzy boutiques and sleek bank buildings.

  3. shahid (unregistered) on July 29th, 2005 @ 2:51 am

    I know of Abu Bakr Block where many of my freinds live, it is disgusting that that the generals allow the arabs to take ove land that should be given to the downtrodden of Pakisan, musharafaf just wants money!!!!1

  4. Waqas (unregistered) on August 10th, 2005 @ 3:19 pm

    PC Tower has been approved by LDA at 40 Storey, it cant be 60 storey tall.

    Yes Majority is poor but what about the middle class, if we dont provide sources of entertainment to our middle class then we will end up with porn addicts.

    All this development is good for Pakistan Sheikh Zayed Complex will create lots of jobs.

    Take the example of China. Look how modern and rich it has become in the last 15 years.

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