July 11 - 17, 20

In the simplest words, infrastructure in Karachi is pathetically decrepit and inadequate. This adds to the woes of the residents and needs immediate revamping to bring some respite in the lives of people. One of the points of great concern is that this year district government approved a budget with a total outlay of Rs40 billion as compared to as high as Rs65 billion budgets in the recent past. This clearly shows that the life will become more miserable.

There is a need to understand the size of this mega city, its administrative structure and above all the realization that the city plays very crucial role in the economy of the country. It is also to be kept in mind that some of the groups having vested interest are trying to undermine the importance of this city and others are trying to plunge 'mini Pakistan' into chaos to weaken the economy of the country. Some of the businesspersons flied away Karachi due to precarious law and order situation and poor infrastructure but have come back after burning their fingers and losing a substantial part of their capital.

According to certain estimates, Karachi has a population of around 20 million or 10 per cent of the total population of the country. It contributes around 75 per cent to the national exchequers. Two of the ports located in the city handle international trade close to US$50 billion, in addition to Afghan transit trade and Nato logistics. Around 2,000 trawlers/tankers move out of Karachi on daily basis and added to this is the cargo handled by Pakistan Railways and passengers travelling by intercity buses.

According to certain estimates, electricity demand of KESC's franchised area is around 5,000MW. Out of this, nearly half is met through self-generation and remaining half has to be met by the KESC. At present, total generation capacity of KESC hovers around 1,100 MW, about 250MW being supplied by the two IPPs operating in its franchised area and another 650MW supplied by Pepco. This leaves a shortfall of around 500MW, which has to be met through 'load management'. A point of concern is that against an installed capacity of 2200MW, KESC generates less than half. This chaotic situation can be attributed to gross mismanagement, blatant theft and attempts to save fuel without realization of the 'opportunity cost'. Petrol/gas requirement for standby generation facilities is colossal, mainly because small generators are inefficient, use petrol/gas instead of furnace oil.

Transmission and distribution losses of KESC hover around 40 per cent. According to the sector experts, ideally these should not be more than five per cent for a 'compact utility' like KESC. Keeping in view highly depleted transmission and distribution net work they are willing to accept losses up to 10 per cent and insist that remaining 30 per cent is nothing but pilferage. This has been going on for decades with the connivance of KESC staff. Even the new strategic investors have failed to contain the power theft. Partly, the government could be held responsible for the failure in containing theft. In certain areas, the pilferers are much stronger than KESC staff and even the law enforcing agencies. Most of the residents of these areas are the settlers who have been enjoying free of cost electricity in their hometowns and are not ready to pay for the electricity they consume.

Over the last few years, quality of service provided by the gas marketing has deteriorated. It may not be fair to put the entire blame on the company. There are factors, which are beyond the control of the company, the worst being sever liquidity crunch. This does not allow the company to revamp its transmission and distribution network.

In Karachi, gas is consumed by industrial units, CNG stations and two fertilizer factories, besides a huge number of domestic consumers. Construction of high rise buildings, opening up of CNG stations and catering houses are the major reason for the drop in pressure. It is also alleged that theft of gas is becoming common by the industrial and commercial users. Since the profit of gas distribution companies is linked with operating assets, the failure to add new assets severely affects profitability of these companies

Fresh water supply is one of the key issues and the entire city seems to be the hostage of tanker mafia. All parts of the city irrespective of being low-income groups or posh localities are forced to buy water at cost. The critics say that the tanker mafia steal water from mainlines and then sell it to consumers. KW&SB says that people do not pay their water bills and it is becoming increasingly difficult to supply water, mainly because of partial operating of the pumping system throughout the city. In fact, KW&SB owes billions of rupees to KESC and there seems to be no hope of recovery because unless people pay the KW&SB it just can't pay KESC, which in turn continues to owe billions of rupees to fuel suppliers.

The worst problem being faced by the city is disposal of sewerage water, solid waste and effluent of industrial units, particularly tanneries. Garbage is burnt in open causing sever pollution and discharge of toxic gas from burning of toxic waste. Similarly, discharge of sewerage/industrial effluents without any treatment into the sea is polluting coastline and rendering seafood unfit for human consumption. In some of the areas, sewerage is also being used for irrigation of fields where fruits and vegetables are grown.

Public transport operating in the city has become highly depleted due to the failure in replacing the outlived vehicles. This often leads to fatal accidents and these vehicles also release highly toxic fumes. Since most of the public transport is run on diesel, the pollution level has already crossed the dangerous level.

Resident as well as the commuters develops serious respiratory system problems. Failure to deliver led-free petrol is adding to the woes of the residents. Fumes of petrol containing lead affects nervous system of the human beings.

Traffic jams are not only chaotic but also source of pollution, waste of petrol and CNG. Encroachment of road by all and sundry is the major reason of traffic jams. Not only smaller roads but the main arteries have also been encroached permanently. Shopkeepers, auto workshops, and car washers are some of the most notorious groups. All these groups are patronized by the traffic police and municipal authorities. Since the law enforcers are paid billions of rupees annually, the business on roads proliferates and the cost is being paid by the citizens.

Experts say that due to encroachments and traffic jams, the time spent on travelling is double or even triple if the roads are clear. The traffic police seem more concerned about collecting 'bhatta' than ensuring smooth flow of traffic. According to operators of public transport they pay up to Rs10 billion to various agencies annually. These include traffic police, motor registration wing, those responsible for granting fitness certificates to public transport and driving license issuing offices. They go to the extent of saying that law enforcing agencies take away the biggest chunk of their income. Therefore, in an attempt to earn more they normally resort to overloading, over speeding and keep on running dilapidated vehicles on the roads.

Lately, flyovers and underpasses have been constructed in the city but bottlenecks continue to exist. This is mainly due to violation of traffic rules, parking on the main roads and above all rickshaws and taxis parked on the main roads. Parking of school vans and parents' cars on the roads worsen the situation. Interestingly, district government and other authorities have constructed parking bays and plazas but these are not used by the public.

The city needs an efficient and cost effective mass transit system. While some of the experts still believe that circular railway system can help in easing traffic on roads, the growing consensus is that the city needs CNG operated buses. They are of the view that bringing radical changes in the public transport system can take thousands of private cars and motor cycles off the road, easing congestion on roads and saving millions of dollars being spent of POL products and also natural gas.

It has been repeatedly stated that unless soft-term credit is offered for the public transport adding new buses, taxis and rickshaws is not possible. Over the last few years, nearly 50,000 CNG operated rickshaws have come on roads in the city, mainly because financing was available. If Punjab government can offer soft-term loans for the cabs, what is stopping Sindh government from ensuring soft-term loans for the purchase of buses? The cost can be further reduced if no import duty is charged on public transports.