The News, Dec 28, 2008
Where the hell is the law?
By Omar R. Quraishi
I can’t help but notice this garish building which has slowly but surely come in front of my apartment complex in Bath Island. It is quite an irony that the area which contains the main residential enclave for government officials has perhaps the highest rate of building violations in a city known for not exactly enforcing the law when it comes to zoning and construction regulations.
The building that I live in has four stories so it’s probably not so illegal, but this new building which is in the last stages of construction has eight stories and I can bet a million rupees that much of the construction is a violation of the Karachi Building Control Authority’s code. Also, to make matters worse – though this is apparently the norm in Karachi – it’s not as if the construction ceases in the evening. At midnight, or sometimes even at two or three in the morning, I would hear the sound of a dumper bring cement or a truck depositing bricks and this would last for well over an hour.
In a civilized country, this kind of ridiculous nonsense would never be allowed by the municipal authorities and perhaps for that very reason residents in neighbouring buildings would be – in case of such a noise disturbance – quick to call the police. Here, however, it is completely a different story. Most residents wouldn’t say anything and the handful that would, were made to feel as if they were doing something wrong or crazy. For instance, just the other day, after parking my car at around 12.30 am I was heading towards the building’s gate when I heard loud music coming from a car parked on the other side of the road – right in front of the under-construction building. I walked over and asked the man standing outside – he must have been in his 20s – why in the world he was listening to such loud music past midnight, and that too on the open road around several flats – and his answer was that when else was he supposed to hear it! Needless to say, it was with great difficulty that I was able to rein in my very strong urge to give this man a tight slap. At least this did have the requisite effect and the moron (what else do you call such a person) did switch off the loud music.
Of course, one doesn’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out just why the building bye-laws are so brazenly flouted. The KBCA looks the other way although how a building constructed in such an obviously illegal manner gets past its scrutiny is difficult to understand, unless one considers the fact that in all likelihood the builder must be paying off someone in the authority to look the other way. Also, if I may add, every day I see a mobile of the Boat Basin police station come to the building site. A constable gets out, goes inside and comes back out after a few minutes – sometimes the foreman himself goes to the mobile. As it turns out, the police mobile comes every day – more or less – to get its bribe money; so that the building work can go on uninterrupted. Also, a tea khoka has encroached on the sidewalk right in front of the building and instead of being asked to shift elsewhere is patronised by the local police.
This isn’t all. There are several other newly-constructed or under-construction buildings in Bath Island which are clearly illegal but the law surely isn’t something that their builder cares or worries about. And talking about the issue of construction brings one’s attention also to another matter that has been in the news of late. Many of Karachi’s streets and neighbourhoods have over the years built barriers – apparently to keep out thieves and criminals. However, over time these barriers have evolved into a kind of system where the local residents keep out unwanted desirables and also to exclude useful people such as scavengers and raddi-wallahs. Personally I would be against having to visit a friend somewhere and be asked for my identity card and satisfy the – often needless – curiosity of the guard at the barrier. The issue whether these barriers should be removed or not has become a debate of sorts and let’s see what happens. However, readers may – or may not – be interested in knowing that the street in Defence Phase V where the speaker of the National Assembly and her spouse, Sindh’s home minister, have a house has been barricaded on both sides.
A male colleague who is single was complaining the other day about how as a single male individual he is denied entry to some of Karachi’s best-known shopping malls. Even the hip and happening Cineplex does the same as do several cafes – in fact I was subjected to just this kind of discrimination when I decided to take out an old school friend and now a banker in Dubai, to late-night coffee. We were refused entry by Espresso because we were not ‘a family’. How odd! As for the shopping malls, one friend managed to get in one after convincing the guards that he had gone there to exchange something he had bought from the bookstore – and he had.
Something worth quoting – got this from a newsgroup mailing list. It’s by Yusuf Nazar, someone who writes in the papers quite regularly. It’s on the current tensions with India: "The jingoism is bad and destructive. The main issue is that many people are scared or shy of talking about the role of our military leadership and the role in the context of its close relationship with the Pentagon and the CIA. The connection is too old, too deep and too murky to be denied or ignored. MMA stands for Mullah, Military and America. Why do we just discuss the Mullah bit... Amir Kasab is just a foot soldier. These columnists cannot write the whole story. Which militant organization in Pakistan does not or did not have connection with the agencies? Name one! We want to discuss the soldiers but are too chicken to talk about their generals?"
The writer is Editorial Pages Editor of The News.