Finally, sanity has started prevailing in the echelons of power in Islamabad and provinces, as they are coming up with important urban development projects. In this connection, the Punjab government has decided to develop 154 small cities in the province. Whereas, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) has come up with a project, with the financial assistance of the Asian Development Bank (ADP), to uplift its key cities under the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cities Improvement Project (KPCIP). The projects in Punjab and KP, if properly managed, could go a long way in bringing about a sea change in the lifestyles of the residents of the provinces. The reason is that presently most of the people in the two provinces as well as in Sindh are either living in cities or at least not in rural areas. In other words, most of the people in the three of four provinces of Pakistan are residents of big cities or semi-urban small cities or towns.
If most of the people in the country are no more living in agriculture-based rural areas, it has become important to concentrate on the development of non-rural regions and localities. In Pakistan, the focus has either been on the uplift of rural areas, especially improving the agro-based economy and its related sectors, or on big cities, especially federal and provincial capitals. Therefore, we have seen projects, like Orange Line Train in Lahore and Metro Bus in Lahore, Multan, Rawalpindi and Bus Rapid Transit in Peshawar. Thus, a refocusing policy on the development of relatively small cities and towns has been exigently needed. It is important to note that when KP and Punjab have come up with projects for small or semi-urban areas, Sindh and Balochistan have failed to do it so far. It may be due to the fact that presently in the Centre, Punjab and KP, there are governments of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) while Sindh is ruled by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Balochistan by a coalition government, spearheaded by the Balochistan Awami Party (BAP). Balochistan has serious financial and capacity issues to come up with projects for urban development, while Sindh has not been interested in them. The disinterestedness on part of the Sindh government is due to the fact that the ruling PPP has its political strongholds in the rural areas of the province as it failed to win significant support from urban centers, like Karachi, Hyderabad and Sukkur, in the last decade. Thus, development of cities and towns in Sindh is not a priority of the PPP, purely for political reasons. However, it should not have been so, as said earlier, development of small cities and peri-urban areas has been the demand of the time, at least for a decade.
Insofar as the project of uplifting 154 small cities and town of Punjab is concerned, the provincial local government department has decided to launch the preparation of master plans for 154 urban local governments, other than metropolitan cities, where the local governments were legally bound to prepare a master plan for their area under the law. Once the plans are thrashed out, they would be presented to the respective district planning and design committees for deliberation and notification as mandated in the Punjab Land Use Rules 2020. A concept note and PC-1 of the projects would soon be submitted to the planning and development department for inclusion in the Annual Development Plan schemes and allocation of funds. Importantly, it has been agreed upon that master plans of 154 towns/cities would be prepared through consultancy by registered town planning firms by the Pakistan Council of Architects and Town Planners (PCATP) within a period of one year. The follow-up, monitoring and implementation of the plans will be ensured in year 3 by the relevant provincial departments and authorities, specifically Project Management Unit. This is the right way to come up with and execute the policy and if it is handed over to provincial government departments to execute through contracts, then it would not be desirably implemented.
As the project is for the uplift of small and sizable cities and towns of Punjab, its five major cities — Lahore, Gujranwala, Faisalabad, Rawalpindi and Multan—have not been included in the list as they already have master plans for their land use and zoning for residential, commercial, agriculture and industrial activities. Significantly, the Punjab government did not have any policy or plans for most of the cities and towns numbering 154 out of the total 159 in the province. Unfortunately, the provincial governments in the past did not pay any attention to this side of development, having disastrous consequences for these areas, the province and the country as a whole, resulting in only horizontal growth there. The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), which has had at least four provincial governments in the last two decades in Punjab, shall be held responsible for the negative policy regarding development of semi-urban and peri-urban areas of the province.
As far as the urban development project in KP is concerned, the proposed Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Cities Improvement project will help the provincial and city governments to improve the livability of cities by making physical investments in water, sanitation, solid waste disposal infrastructure, and green urban space. Secondly, by providing institutional support to improve service delivery and the performance of municipal companies, the project will benefit about 11 million people in the five districts (By 2035, the urban population in the districts is projected to increase to around 11 million) and will support the government’s development priorities. It is important to note that there are no big cities in KP, including Peshawar, the provincial capital. Therefore, all cities included in the projects, apart from Peshawar, could be considered small cities. Urban development in KP has been really important, because the province lacks pure urban areas which could result in economic growth there and improve the life standard and lifestyles of the residents.
If the present PTI-led coalition governments of Punjab and KP or any future government is able to develop small cities and towns in the provinces, it would result in vertical growth and control horizontal development, protect green areas and unbridled increasing land costs, make site development zones for residential, commercial, industrial and agriculture activities, high-rise structures, low-cost apartment projects amid generation of economic activities. Hopefully, the PPP government in Sindh will set aside its vested political interest in the largest interest of Sindhis and Pakistan and would come up with its own plans of cities and town development. Last but not the least, Balochistan has serious financial and capacity issues. Therefore, for it the federal government must develop plans for urbanization as there is no urban infrastructure in the province.