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EDITORIAL: The way the Lahore High Court (LHC) suspended the operation of Lahore Master Plan 2050, saying “these projects pose a threat to the economy of the country” and given two weeks to respondents to submit replies, it seems this is yet another case of doing the right thing in the wrong way.

The Lahore Development Authority (LDA) is struggling to dispel the petitioner’s claim that the Plan’s approval was “a managed affair designed to extend undue benefits to the land mafia and property developers” largely because it did not give enough time and attention to concerns of all stakeholders before rushing to implement decisions clearly taken at the top of the political food chain.

Indeed, a public hearing on the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) of the Lahore Division of the Plan held in mid-December also seemed pretty “managed”, with participants largely comprising silent LDA employees who did not raise pertinent questions about erosion of the city’s little remaining “green areas” and likely further degradation of the city’s air quality index (AQI).

Let’s not forget that Lahore already boasts the worst quality of air of any city in the whole world, which is causing a significant rise in pulmonary and heart diseases in its citizens and unduly pressuring its healthcare infrastructure. A few participants also meekly questioned why residents of Sheikhupura were not taken on board when hammering out the plan.

Technically, all LDA needs to do to meet all legal requirements for a public hearing is publish a notice in print media and get at least one person to attend it. In reality, however, the objective of such hearings is to collect, gauge and weigh inputs from all stakeholders and make adjustments in the plan if necessary.

Since the latter part is essential in long term projects that look to transform and urbanise entire cities, the criticism makes a lot of sense and relevant authorities should try to address all concerns as soon as possible rather than let this case tumble endlessly through the legal system.

That does not mean that the entire initiative is suspect. As the most important city of the most important province in the federation, Lahore receives and houses immigrant workers from all across Punjab, and its infrastructure is in desperate need of an overhaul. LDA should, in fact, have started work on this Master Plan a long time ago. But better late than never, and now that it has prepared a workable blueprint, there is still time to address people’s concerns and make sure that land mafias and notorious property developers are not able to hijack it; making fat profits as usual at the cost of the interests of the city’s residents.

LDA will also need to explain the degree of expected erosion of green areas in and around the city transparently. So far it is saying that the project will reduce the metropolitan city’s green area by about 12 percent. These figures need to be confirmed and explained in light of the city’s present situation, especially in terms of how much this percentage will further compromise Lahore’s AQI. These are important questions that should have been answered before finalising the project. Now, authorities have only themselves to blame for the stops and starts that it has already started to suffer from. The situation is expected to become clearer when the LHC resumes the case in about a fortnight. Till then, all relevant stakeholders must provide exhaustive input and analysis, and the Punjab government should stand ready to settle all concerns, especially the charge that the Master Plan is just one more platform for the province’s parasitic elite to make more abnormal profits.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2023


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