I, Dr Farid Ahmed Malik, son of Nazir Ahmed Malik, desire to revive and restore Lahore, the city of my birth. Once a child growing up around the historic building of the Lahore Municipal Corporation (LMC) now called Metropolitan Corporation of Lahore (MCL), I have painfully lived through the decline of the heart of Pakistan.
Every morning when I walked to school located on the Mall, the roads were wiped and cleaned at dawn. Garbage was promptly removed. Tongas were only allowed to cross the road to preserve its cleanliness. An elected Mayor ran the city. There was a complete chain of command.
After school hours we played on the grounds surrounding the LMC building, called Gol Bagh as it was round in shape. Then a road was cut through to provide a straight link with Lower Mall where the PMG Building is located. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto launched his PPP in November 1967 at the YMCA Hall not too far from there.
During the historic Islamic Summit that the city hosted in 1974, ZAB named it Nasir Bagh while the National Stadium became Qaddafi Stadium, and both names stand till today as a homage to the great leaders of the Arab world. The Lahore Omnibus Service ( LOS ) was also launched from here which covered the entire length and breadth of the city.
After the first Martial Law in October 1958, the place started to change. Instead of focusing on the needs of the people it turned into a propaganda point where huge portraits of the dictator were displayed under the caption of ‘The Saviour’ together with Allama Iqbal ‘The Conceiver’ ‘with no mention of the Quaid-e-Azam. As a Muslim League child I asked my father about this lapse but he had no answer. In the 1965 Presidential elections when Madare Millat Fatima Jinnah decided to challenge the dictator she was declared a traitor and Indian Agent by the stalwarts of the ‘Sarkari League’, some of whom are now part of the two sub-strings called PML(N) and PML(Q). The Quaid’s vision of a progressive democratic Pakistan did not suit them.
Soon the control of the city was handed over to un-elected administrators who had no love for Lahore and its dwellers. Several important functions were also taken away. The centralized command was bifurcated into several new departments that were headed by civil servants who relied on instructions from above. Those at the bottom were rendered powerless, the people lost control of their home.
A control room has to be established within the office of the Mayor in the MCL building to monitor the services provided to the people. There has to be a functional chain of command to run the city in the best interests of its residents.
Property tax collection was handed over to the newly created Excise and Taxation Department which was then part of the West Pakistan Government. The Lahore Improvement Trust (LIT), later the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) was created for town planning and approval of building plans. Transport House was built across the road from Faletti’s Hotel which took control of the entire public transportation system. It did not end here. The Parks and Horticulture Authority (PHA) was launched and then the Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) came into being.
The Chief Minister and the Chief Secretary are now in total control of the province of which the city of Lahore is just a small entity in the larger context of the province. The people of Lahore are at the mercy of unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats who have no love for the city that has produced six Nobel Laureates
Mian Badruddin, a son of the cit,y retired as Chief Engineer of LMC in the 1960s. He kept working till the last day of his life. Every morning he walked from his house in Delhi Darwaza to his office or the district court where he was called as an expert witness. He knew every building of Lahore by heart, was replaced by an engineer of the Housing and Physical Planning Department who was an alien to the historic metropolis. The corporation schools and dispensaries that served the residents of the city have also perished.
During the last rainy season I was driving down Lawrence Road. I saw huge piles of sewage sludge on the road. It was a strange sightt, so I stopped and inquired about its origin. I was told that WASA had cleaned the gutters and left the dirt on the road for LWMC to lift. On my way back after a few hours the rain came and washed the sludge back into the gutters. It was an exercise in futility,a total waste of effort.
My city is an orphan, and there is no one in control. Even the devolution plan has not worked. The government of PTI decided to hold direct elections for the Mayor of Lahore which is a good idea to put the city back on track. In Delhi, the elected CM of the city has turned it around. Under the leadership of Arvind Kejriwal, a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology and a former civil servant, it is a model city in India that is run by its own son. With a powerful directly elected Mayor, Lahore can also brigten as it used to be, a functional city in control of its residents, not imported civil servants and administrators seeking instructions from CM/PM secretariats.
The glory of Lahore has to be restored. Starting with the revival of education; every five-year-old must have space in a neighbourhood school to ensure 100 percent primary coverage, it’s a constitutional requirement (Article 25A). Then comes employability. Youth have to be put to work,and everyone between the ages of 5 to 35 has to be made productive with appropriate skill sets.
No one should sleep hungry at night unless advised by the doctor. Food banks can be established for distribution of dry ration to the needy based on reliable NADRA data. A control room has to be established within the office of the Mayor in the MCL building to monitor the services provided to the people. There has to be a functional chain of command to run the city in the best interests of its residents.
The much publicized NFC Award has been devolved to the provinces but has failed to reach the cities and districts where it is most needed. The city of Lahore must take control of its own revenue and then spend it on the people who toil to raise it. Lahore is the heart of the republic which continues to bleed. Once the leakages are plugged here the model can then be replicated all over the land. Revival of the city of Iqbal will then lead to the resurrection of Jinnah’s Pakistan, a progressive welfare state where people can live in peace and prosper. In the words of the Poet of the East, ” Har Fard Hai Millat Kay Muqadar Ka Sitara ” (Every individual is a shining star of the nation’s destiny).