‘It is high time to stop importing & imposing officers from outside over Karachi’

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‘It is high time to stop importing & imposing officers from outside over Karachi’


Ex-KMC administrator Fahim Zaman discusses his tenure in office

Fahim Zaman has worked as administrator Karachi Metropolitan Corporation, chairperson Karachi Water & Sewerage Board and chief executive Karachi Building Control Authority. He is currently working as a director with a leading media group.

He is also a trustee of Endowment Fund Trust, Dawn Relief, Feroza Hasham Trust and Hunar Ghar Welfare Organisation. For a long period he has worked with Edhi Trust and SIUT while amongst other things he has contributed several investigative stories to a newspaper.

This week he spoke to Bol News about different aspects of Karachi and the city’s myriad civic problems.


What is the problem with Karachi?



There’s a need to better understand Karachi. And for that better understanding we have to compare the metropolis with the next biggest city of the country, Lahore.

According to the 1998 census, Karachi’s population was announced as 9.8 million, of which 9.4m lived within 603 square kilometres of the ‘urban area’ out of a total area of 3,557 square km. In comparison, 6.3m people were then living in an area of 1,772 sq km of Lahore, among them 5.2m living within 312 square km of the ‘urban area’.

There were 14,494 census blocks for Karachi and 6,585 for Lahore. Using an average of 225 households per census block and multiplying them by the average urban household size of 6.2 gives us an estimated population of 20,219,130 for Karachi and 9,186,075 for Lahore.

However, if we work backwards from the totals provided by the provisional results, the census-2017 has counted 2,770,074 households in Karachi and 1,757,691 for Lahore, which comes to an average of 191 households per census block in Karachi with a household size of 5.78. But [we get] a whopping 267 households per census block in Lahore with an average household size of 6.33. One of the reasons that [Karachi’s] total population, as revealed by the census, seems so preposterously low is because unlike Lahore, it has long hosted a large number of ‘illegal aliens’ and internally displaced people.

They have flocked to settlements such as Bengali Para, Arakanabad, Afghan Khaima Basti, Mohalla Rahim Yar Khan, Jannat Gul Town, Kati Pahari, and Mohammad Khan Colony, Mianwali Colony or Landi Kotal Colony. Such localities do not exist in Lahore, nor do half its residents live in katchi abadis — considered ‘no go’ areas by the police and law enforcement agencies — as they do in Karachi.


These figures put the households per census block in Karachi at 21 per cent ie below national average and in Lahore at 18pc which is above average. In short, the population of Karachi has never been correctly counted, resulting in haphazard planning and uneven development.


How do you compare Karachi with Mumbai so as to find out what is lacking?


In the pre-partition days, the two had long been called ‘sister cities.’ Like Mumbai, Karachi has a unique mix of cultures and communities, with its Parsi and Goan communities, its own members of the Sindhi and even Pashtun communities.

But then after independence, there was a marked visible difference in the pace of progress between the two cities because their people and the city fathers and their leaders had a different approach. The main difference was that of attitude.


Here, the administrator of Karachi asked ‘what the city could do for him’, whereas in Mumbai he asked ‘what he could do for the city.’ Hence, the difference between the two is clearly visible.

There are now 19,400 buses on the roads of Mumbai for a population of 21m whereas there are only 4,000 public buses in Karachi for a population of 20m and counting. Mumbai’s suburban rail systems carried over 6.5m passengers every day whereas a reliable, safe, and eco-friendly Karachi Circular Railway is still a dream.

In fact, the lack of will to do anything for the city and the internal rift among various ethnic groups resulted in a complete chaos.


What challenges did you face as KMC administrator?



I took over as the administrator of KMC in 1994. It was the worst of times. Newspapers ran stories of mutilated bodies in gunny bags almost on a daily basis. It was indeed very difficult to streamline municipal activities in a city gripped in violence.

I had a total strength of about 63,500 people and quite a number of them were appointed by the outgoing MQM. It was initially difficult to deal with KMC employees because initially they met me as an appointee of a hostile political party.

However, I made sure that I was seen as a neutral administrator only interested in the good of the city and not interested in anyone’s political background. Once they realised that I was equally firm with all colours, genders and creeds, there was a general acceptance of my stewardship.

In my experience, no political party or ethnic group owns people, especially middle-class and lower middle-class government employees generally owe allegiance to their service, provided they are not subjected to political witch hunts and they were given fair opportunity to work. So all was not lost.

I came to know that even the phone bills of MQM higher-ups and workers were paid from the KMC exchequer. It was an open secret that the bill of the contractors was passed only after paying hefty commission.

The overall system reeked of corruption since there was no check or balance. The departments, may it be land, katchi abadi, health, engineering, building control and water and sewerage board etc acted like mafias with complex and powerful networks leading all the way to the top. All this did make my job an uphill task which required more than a mere strong will to change the status quo and enforce the rule of law.


A small team of about five people brought in from NED, Perac etc did wonders. The then Sindh chief minister Abdullah Shah was a great help.


What did you do to streamline your civic responsibilities?


My responsibility as administrator of the city included domestic, industrial and commercial water supply, disposal of sewage and solid waste management and public health. Moreover, I was responsible for maintenance and development of the city’s physical infrastructure including roads, bridges, flyovers and bypasses as well as building control in Karachi.

I called a meeting of all the heads of departments to give them a free hand to work. KMC was highly centralised in those days with every file finally ending up on the administrator’s desk. My first task was to redistribute authority as well as responsibility, including financial resources to the head of all the departments for providing better public services.


Not only that, through devolution of power, I ensured that decisions are made for the best interests of the local people, communities and localities. While streamlining the age-old system, I had to face unending a number of political pressures. There were in fact four major challenges before me; and these were ensuring a clean and healthy environment, smooth water supply, efficient sewage system and to save the crumbling infrastructure of the city.


How far did you achieve
those tasks?


To some extent, yes we did manage to achieve results. Unfortunately, water shortage was, and still is, a problem for the residents. While everyone has to pay for water in the city, it is very painful for me that as an individual living in DHA, I’m able to wash my cars with sweet water.


But the ones living in less-privileged areas of the city like North Karachi, Shershah or Orangi, Liaquatabad and FC Area etc struggle for a bucketful of water. The issue is not only that of shortage of water, rather judicious distribution of a limited resource in the city. Being the chairperson of the KWSB as a first step, I tried to plug the leakages and theft in the supply lines.

Later, I called a meeting of water board officials and asked them to prepare a judicious but comprehensive schedule for supplying water to various localities, especially the ones suffering from acute water shortage. After a month’s struggle, a hefty water distribution timetable was produced and the localities were informed through councillors and newspapers.

I made sure that people living in each locality of the city knew when they should get water and if they didn’t, they could agitate for what was rightfully theirs. This did help resolve the problem to a great extent with people who would never get any water started receiving some, at least enough to wash their tears.

Lifting of garbage and cleaning of roads and streets was another challenge especially due to severe lack of machines and equipment as well as powerful mafias operating in the system. To avoid traffic disturbance as a first step, I insisted on cleaning the main roads at night.

I also focused on the introduction of sweeping machines. A number of garbage transfer stations were established where garbage collected by smaller trucks was brought from various neighbourhoods for onward transportation for its disposal.

We experimented with using freight trains to run on circular railway tracks at night. Abdullah Shah went out of his way and allotted some 6,000 acres for landfill site near Dhabeji.


[For the] first time in the city’s history, roadside heating of bitumen and manual carpeting of roads was banned. We introduced AASHTO standards for infrastructure construction, building Shahrah-e-Faisal, Shaheed-e-Millat Road, Mirza Adam Khan Road, Mai Kolachi Bypass and many others on AASHTO standards.

In 1994, there was not a single functioning sewage treatment plant or a hospital waste incinerator in the city. We rehabilitated TP-1 with a capacity of 45 MGD at Gutter Baghicha, TP-2 in Mehmoodabad with a capacity of 46 MGD well before leaving KMC.

I had issued a work order to a Chinese contractor for sewage treatment plant at Hawkesbay with an installed capacity of 54 MGD.


What is the way forward?



I wish there was one! Karachi is one city with over 25m hardworking residents hailing from every class, caste, creed and religion. The powers that be will never agree to surrender their control to empower people of Karachi. For them, the city remains merely a goose that lays golden eggs.

It is high time that the federal and provincial ‘masters’ stop importing and imposing officers from outside over Karachi’s municipal bodies with no stake in the city, and continue to rip it off. More than anything else there has to be a unified municipal authority for maintenance and development works in Karachi with elected representation from 247 UCs and 1,120 wards of the city.

The municipal laws for building control, master plan, health, sanitation, water supply, public transport etc as well as civil administration including police need to be under one metropolitan corporation led by an elected mayor and councillors. All municipal functions as well as civic services have to be integrated into a mega-metropolitan system like any other functional modern city in the world.

When I became administrator back in the 1990s, initially the office used to receive over 700 files each month from 38 departments of KMC, KWSB and building control etc. By the time I left, most of the administrative authority had been devolved to the levels concerned, leaving me with less than 50 files to decide over each month.

Financially, Karachi can support itself as there is no dearth of resources in the city. The phenomenon of Edhi Trust, the SIUT and response to events like the 2005 earthquake in Azad Kashmir, the 2015 earthquake in Chitral, 2010 and 2011 floods in KP and Sindh (just to name a few), Karachi has provided ample proof [of] being the most charitable city in the region.


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