KARACHI - THE DRIVING ENGINE OF PAKISTAN'S ECONOMY

The city being the lifeline of Pakistan's economy deserves better treatment by the policy planners and administrators.

By SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Mar 06 - 12, 2006

Karachi is the driving engine of Pakistan's economy. It is also termed the hub of financial and industrial activity in the country. It accounts for the lion's share in Pakistan's GDP and generates 65% of the national revenue. Most of Pakistan's financial institutions, including the State Bank of Pakistan, have their head offices here. Karachi has the offices of multi and transnational companies. Country's biggest stock exchange is located here. Two sea ports and Pakistan's only civilian airport facilitate foreign trade as well as the passengers.

The key industries located in Karachi include textiles and clothing, chemical and pharmaceuticals, steel, oil refining and automobiles. Apart from these, there are thousands of small and medium enterprises. Lately, it has also emerged as an import location for outsourcing software development and establishment of call centers. A new industrial zone adjacent to Port Qasim has become focus of local as well as foreign investors due to its proximity to the main city and rail and road links to rest of the country. The onward connection to Afghanistan and Central Asian countries makes the city gateway to an enormous but untapped market. An expo centre established by the Export Promotion Bureau at Karachi is now available for hosting regional and international exhibitions. The list is unending and needs dozens of pages to describe the role of Karachi and its contribution to Pakistan's economy.

Karachi, the provincial capital of Sindh, has a population exceeding 15 million with an annual growth rate of above 5% compared to the national growth rate of 2.5% per annum. This exceptionally high population growth rate is mainly attributed to the large-scale exodus of population from all the rural areas of Pakistan to Karachi, besides natural growth. It is estimated that approximately 2,00,000 people or 35,000 households are added to the metropolis every year. By the year 2010, Karachi may reach a population of 20 million. Karachi's urban area now extends over 2,000 sq. km; consist of 18 towns, six Cantonment Boards and other authorities.

According to various estimates Karachi contributes about 25% of the national GDP, 50% of value added in large-scale manufacturing and about 45% of the national exchequer. The city's economy is large and diverse, and, with largest and most dynamic industrial complexes in the country located in the Sindh Industrial and Trading Estate (SITE), Korangi Industrial and Trading Estate, North Karachi Industrial and Trading Estate etc. Karachi is an ideal location for business. There is scope for expansion of tertiary sectors and retail trade. Most of the above mentioned estates still have some vacant plots, only because adequate infrastructure facilities are still not available.

According to many business leaders, industries in Karachi face many problems including shortage of water, inadequate affluent disposal facilities, depleted roads causing worst traffic jams and pathetic public transport system. It may be true that demand for utilities is rising at a very steep rate but the fact is that neglect of decades has caused so much damage that developing the required systems is not possible through revamping. New systems have to be put in place and existing networks have to be discarded. It is common complaint that while contribution of Karachi to national exchequer is enormous, allocations for the development and maintenance works are paltry.

The biggest problem faced by the residents of Karachi is damaged roads, which not only cause worst traffic jams but also responsible for loss of precious man-hours. It is no secret that if one begins from Keamari and start moving towards Gharo by National Highway, for more than 50 kilometers he/she remains within the municipal limits of Karachi. More or less a similar situation is faced while traveling on Super Highway till one reaches Thana Bula Khan. On the RCD Highway it is almost impossible to identify the municipal limits of Karachi and Hub, the border city linking Balochistan with Sindh.

According to an expert of urban development, Karachi is growing at a much faster pace than the rate at which civic agencies are able to create the infrastructure. As the population is growing the city is expanding horizontally as well as vertically. The vertical growth is much faster than the horizontal growth and the result is that the number of people living per kilometer has become a serious issue. Roads are packed with all types of vehicles, streets are filled with parked cars, electricity network is overloaded, potable water is scare and sewerage lines are overflowing, even the pressure in gas pipelines become so low that it is almost impossible for the housewives to cook the food.

According to some reports Karachi can also be called 'Automobile City' because its roads and streets are flooded with all sorts of vehicles. Vehicles start appearing on roads even before the sunrise and there seems to be no ease till midnight. The city has almost 8,000 kilometers long roads on which more than 19 different types of vehicles are found plying throughout day and night. According to some estimates more two million vehicles including cars, buses, trucks, mini buses, taxis, rickshaws, trawlers, etc. can be seen running on the roads. The population of vehicles is growing at 15-20 percent per annum. The largest percentage consists of private cars (45%) followed by motorcycles (37%). There are more than half a million cars and almost equal number of motorcycles, 40,000 rickshaws, 35,000 taxis, 19,000 trucks and 90,000 delivery vans and pick-ups. Experts say that at an average 200 vehicles (four as well as two wheelers) are added on the daily basis.

Millions of people living in Karachi use public transport system and for them it is like a nightmare. The condition of these vehicles is often not only highly depleted but most of these are also overloaded. These emit thick black smoke causing environmental pollution and respiratory track problems for the commuters. These vehicles often cause serious accidents resulting loss of precious human lives beside monetary losses. Some of the analysts say that width of roads is not an issue. Often the roads are as wide as 100 to 200 feet but traffic jams are common. It is because of a number of reasons 1) ill-planned traffic management system, 2) encroachments, 3) wrong parking, 4) lack of proper bus stops and above all 5) inefficient and corrupt traffic police.

One of the reasons an inefficient public transport system has developed in Karachi is the partnership between transport mafia and the corrupt police officials. On one hand these ruthless people do not allow entry of new entrepreneurs in this business and on the other hand they fleece passengers as much as they like. They were also responsible for the suspension, leading to ultimate closure, of circular railway system in the city. It is believed that till 1980 this system was working very efficiently as more than 100 trains were plying and carrying more than six million passengers annually. However, many experts refute these figures. They say that inefficient and corrupt railway staff was used to facilitate people in traveling without buying ticket, despite being too meager an amount.

There are efforts once again to revive the circular railway system in the city. There are two contradictory opinions 1) it will help in reducing traffic load on the roads and 2) it will not be very effective as people will be forced to ultimately use road transport to reach their destinations. The critics also say that if the amount, allocated for circular railway, is spent prudently on improving public transport system in the city it could yield better results. However, the biggest problem is that various vested interest groups influence the plans. The worst factor being that corrupt officials are keen in undertaking mega projects because they yield higher 'commission'.

As stated earlier the city is being polluted by smoke emitting vehicles. This is because of a number of reasons, which include 1) very old buses, 2) almost all of these running on diesel, 3) respective departments issuing fitness certificates to those vehicles that are not road worthy and 4) excessive number of mini buses plying instead of long-body buses. Lately, an effort was made to induct buses fitted with CNG and also with airconditioning facility. However, most of these have gone off-route or are plying without airconditioners and still charging exorbitant fares. The City Government headed by Naimatullah Khan, the past City Nazim, initiated this scheme. It is important that the new Nazim and Deputy Nazim take notice of the malpractices of transporters. The best gift they can give to the residents of Karachi is an efficient and effective public transport system.

Most of the roads and footpaths located in areas coming under City Government as well as Cantonment Boards jurisdiction have been encroached. In the past it was said that police was not under the Mayor/Nazim therefore, it was not possible to remove these encroachments. Now police is under the City Government and removing these encroachments should not be a problem. The Cantonment Boards should also open their eyes and remove these encroachments. Saying this it is also important to emphasis that these poor people should be provided alternative places to do their business. City Governments and Cantonment Boards should also ensure that such encroachments do not reappear with the passage of time.

WAY FORWARD

It is heartening to note that the City Government has initiated various projects and the federal and the provincial governments are providing funds. However, various aspects needing immediate attention are 1) lack of futuristic approach, 2) low quality of work, 3) slow pace of construction and 4) absence of coordination among various utilities. Technically, the underpass constructed by KPT in Clifton is still incomplete. Work at Hino Chowrangi is moving at snail's speed. Contactor does not seem to be interested in completing Sohrab Goath re-moduling project. This has reference to a few mega projects only but list is very long. It also appears that City Government has abandoned some of the projects initiated in the past. One fails to understand that if the funds are available, why the work on these projects is moving at such a slow speed?

The latest project announced by the City Government is remoduling of I. I. Chundrigar Road. As a first step entry of public transport on this road has been stopped. It seems that this step has been taken to ease traffic flow because of laying of pipes on both sides of the road. However, planners completely ignored the problem being caused to millions of people using public transport. One can only say that whatever development/infrastructure revamping work is going on it is being done very slowly and stopping entry of public transport on this road is not a prudent decision.

It is also necessary to point out that work on Northern Bypass and Southern Bypass is also moving at a very slow speed. Construction of these bypasses is very crucial for stopping entry of trawlers and oil tankers in the city. It is no secret that the imported cargo has to be hauled to upcountry and export goods have to be brought to the two ports located in Karachi. The worst and most dangerous is the movement of oil tankers destined upcountry in the city.

In order to control pollution the government should make it mandatory to run public transport on CNG. The conversion of existing transport to CNG may not be prudent as well as easy. Therefore, the government should ensure induction of new CNG fitted vehicles. This will not be possible without extending soft-term loans for the purchase of these vehicles. In order to avoid the fate met by schemes introduced in the past, loans should only be disbursed by the commercial banks after establishing creditworthiness of the borrowers. No credit should be extended to habitual defaulters.

The city contributing billions towards national exchequer and being the lifeline of Pakistan's economy deserves better treatment by the policy planners and administrators. Faster development of Karachi is the necessary catalyst for the economic development of Pakistan, why to ignore it?