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The Express Tribune Editorial 29 January 2020

PM in Karachi


Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trip to Karachi has resulted in some interesting developments and serious politicking. During a meeting with the Sindh Governor and the CM, various development schemes came up, along with the wheat shortage, locust attacks, increasing polio cases, and the coronavirus threat. Unofficially, it appears that the transfer of the inspector general of Sindh Police also came up. Official statements suggest that the CM brought up a few key projects that are still pending approval or financing from the Centre. The PTI’s lack of interest in moving these projects ahead suggests it wants to avoid letting the MQM-P take credit for development.
The PM’s claim that he will direct Planning and Development Minister Asad Umar to expedite the projects rings hollow when considering that many of these projects are considered essential. Bus and train projects are critical to improving transportation in the country’s financial hub and biggest city. Running water is a luxury for many in Karachi, making K-IV a necessity as well. The PM also previously expressed his desire to initiate projects in Karachi, including a ‘comprehensive package’ of Rs162 billion for the city’s development. But these are still not concrete. Even Umar recently said the PM would visit Karachi in February to inaugurate some development projects, but details remain limited.
During the trip, the PM also met Pir Pagara, but oddly, there were no official meetings with MQM-P leaders. Separately, Imran also spoke at a Kamyab Jawan Programme event, where he repeated details about the project and the government’s Hunarmand Jawan and Ehsaas for Students programmes. Mostly though, despite being premier for 18 months, he was still repeating anti-corruption and meritocracy-related election rhetoric. The reality is that meritocracy is taking a backseat to realpolitik. All three PTI governments — Islamabad, Punjab, and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa — are fraught with infighting and palace intrigue, which is affecting performance.
The PM’s criticism of the Sindh government’s performance may be objectively fair, but his reluctance to focus on the failings of his own party’s governments is becoming more worrying by the day.


Threat of gated enclaves


Urban development through gated communities, especially in big cities of the country, is a trend that continues to thrive – well, at a serious cost to the environment. Big tracts of land, especially those located on city outskirts, are the builders’ favourite nowadays. Such pieces of land are bulldozed into flat surfaces and turned into gated and guarded enclaves. Natural green growth is an obvious casualty in the process – something that transforms into colossal environmental degradation, with time. For this big a reason, the concern expressed by Sindh Local Government and Forests Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, during a recent meeting of the heads of various municipal agencies in the province, is indeed welcome.
If the provincial government has, as a matter of principle, decided that permission will not be granted for new projects in the province of Sindh until tree plantation is ensured by executors, it must be commended as a good green initiative, given that we are a nation that is still stuck in graver, life-threatening problems like lack of food and water, and stuff. However, that’s just not enough. Environmental concerns need to be a major proponent of the design aspect of the gated structures. Not just tree plantation, but a proper environmental design needs to be framed, as a template, and enforced for implementation by builders and developers.
Even while framing such an environmental design, we would only be catering to nature for the sake of people i.e. making use of nature for our personal benefits like having parks to stroll and jog; bringing area under cultivation to fulfil our eating needs; and getting fresh air to breathe. Another aspect that must be brought in consideration is nature for the sake of itself i.e. providing a self-sustaining mechanism for the nature.


Costlier milk?


After the gas, wheat and sugar crises, a milk crisis is looming on the horizon. Office-bearers of the Pakistan Cattle Feed Association and the Dairy and Cattle Farmers Association have asked for an increase in the price of milk. They told reporters at the Lahore Press Club the other day that the cost of all their inputs had risen so the retail price of milk should now be set at Rs150 a litre. They also claimed that agricultural commodities were being exported without meeting the domestic needs. They said the basic ingredient of cattle feed was now available for Rs1,600 per 40kgs and the prices of other inputs and the general price level too had gone up so they could not afford to sell milk at the present rate.
The situation is that the prices of all basic items like those of wheat flour, sugar, lentils together with the price of gas and other fuels have increased manifold over the past one year. Now the price of milk, which too is a kitchen item, is also likely to rise. One fails to comprehend the rising prices of basic food items in an agricultural country. Pakistan is the fourth largest milk-producing country in the world. At present, its price in different cities of the country is above Rs100 a litre. It is already beyond the reach of many and is likely to be unaffordable for many more. Ironically, in the same country there are rich people for whom fresh milk is imported from New Zealand.
The kitchen budget has registered a manifold increase in the past one year. Now Karachi ranks 441st in terms of cost of living out of 445 cities in the world. Recently in the city, two men committed suicide because of their economic circumstances. Rising prices, inflation and lack of jobs and loss of jobs have made life for the common man miserable. Their patience is thinning out. If mangoes can explode, so can their anger.
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