Pros and cons of the development of Lahore

16 Jan 2018

The development currently taking place in Lahore has both positive and negative aspects. Lahore offers a safer and more secure environment in comparison with other cities such as Karachi, Peshawar or Quetta. No other city in Pakistan compares to Lahore in terms of the number of infrastructure development projects.

The political leadership of the past three decades is to be credited for Lahore’s progress. In particular, Shahbaz Sharif and the Pakistan Muslim League -N (PML-N) have played an important role in the development of the city. The foundation and infrastructure for what is present-day Lahore were laid during the 1990s, throughout the tenure of Governor Shahbaz Sharif. Flyovers and underpasses were constructed. Roads were widened. Gradually, a new Lahore began to emerge. In the era of Pervez Musharraf, the then governor Pervaiz Elahi paid special attention to Lahore and initiated numerous development plans.

Although such initiatives undoubtedly have many benefits, there is also a downside. According to one point of view, the development of Lahore is exploitative. It creates an unfair distribution of wealth, lacks long-term planning and is wrongly prioritised.

A critical analysis of the development projects undertaken over the last ten years sheds light on some of these issues. For instance, while the Metro-bus service has provided commuters with an inexpensive mode of transportation, the entire city has become trapped within its confines. Many roads are now being demolished to create the Orange Line, which has greatly contributed to air pollution in the area.

In recent days, this pollution manifested as smog, making it difficult for the citizens of Lahore to be able to breathe. In addition, several important historical sites in Lahore have been damaged by these development projects. An imposing ring road is being constructed to cater to needs of the increasing population and traffic flow. Though such projects are necessary in view of the population surge in the city, it begs an important question: Why are other cities in Pakistan not experiencing population growth at a similar scale?

Many roads are now being demolished to create the Orange Line, which has greatly contributed to air pollution in the area. In recent days, this pollution manifested as smog, making it difficult for the citizens of Lahore to breathe.

In the recent past, the Swat operation, Operation Zarb-e-Azb, and Operation Radd-ul-Fassad resulted in many well-established people from the affected areas of Federally Administrated Tribal Areas and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) selling their assets and relocating to Punjab, and particularly Lahore.

As Karachi often experiences civil unrest and extortion by organised criminal gangs, Lahore is the safest option for affluent Karachiites as well. With this influx of people and wealth, Lahore has experienced an economic boost that has led to both job creation and a boom in the service industry. The abundance of employment opportunities has attracted more people to the city.

The saturation and the purchasing power of the families that have migrated to Lahore have directly led to growth in the service sector. For instance, extremely affluent newcomers to Lahore have increased the demand for world-class, high-end consumer goods and services. This in turn has spurred the construction of upscale hotels, fine-dining restaurants and expensive shopping malls. These malls stock some of the most well-known and pricey imported brands.

While coffee was once a novel concept in this ‘chai’ loving country, now dozens of coffee shops have popped up all over Lahore. Such malls, shops, and cafes provide employment to hundreds of workers. But most of the goods and materials needed to run these businesses are imported, utilising scarce foreign exchange.

Ultimately, service ventures do not create products that can be exported, that generate meaningful wealth, or that improve the quality of living for Pakistani people as a whole. As a result, the increasing imports are depleting the national foreign currency reserves.

While the service sector has experienced unprecedented advancement in Lahore, other sectors have not seen similar success. Notably, the manufacturing industry and secondary business sectors have not benefited from Lahore’s increase in population and wealth.

Lack of proper long-term planning and sound infrastructure — both of which are necessary for the manufacturing industry to thrive — will be a hurdle in the way of a surge in financial resources in the city. Uninterrupted and abundant energy is fundamental for production. The shortage of electricity in Pakistan in the last ten plus years has stunted the growth of the manufacturing sector and its ancillary industries.

Another criticism of Lahore’s recent development stems from the view of Lahore as a favourite of the ruling elite. Most political leaders in Punjab, regardless of their political affiliation, expend more funds on Lahore than any other city in the province. Lahore certainly does not constitute the entirety of Punjab, but benefits from the lion’s share of the province’s resources. This has led to discord within the province, particularly in southern Punjab. This feeling of alienation and displeasure in residents of other cities in Punjab is not entirely misplaced. Comparing Lahore with any other city, such as Rajanpur, the difference is stark.

In the entire southern Punjab region, Multan is the only city with a government university as well as a government hospital. Even in that governmental hospital, there is a severe shortage of funds and patients can often be seen seeking doctors while holding their own IV bags. Other areas are worse off. At the same time, Lahore enjoys a plethora of state-of-the-art medical facilities, educational institutions, fly-overs, and a network of roads that reflect the discriminatory and exploitative attitudes of the ruling class.

Within Lahore, traffic continues to be congested despite the investment in infrastructure. Extreme environmental pollution is causing serious physical diseases. The constant air and noise pollution is leading to mental illness in its residents. Could this be Mother Nature exacting revenge for the unequal distribution of wealth?

The provincial government should allocate funds fairly among other large cities of Punjab such as Multan, Faisalabad, and DG Khan to allow them to accommodate the increasing population of Pakistan. By redistributing resources and developing other cities, Lahore can reduce its population explosion and the problems associated with it.

If Pakistan is to progress as a whole, we must ensure equal rights to all citizens and fair allocation of resources to all regions. Otherwise, inequality will create fissures and fuel further divisions amongst the people, which can prove to be very dangerous to the integrity of Pakistan.

Published in Daily Times, January 16th 2018.

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