Islamabadis probably do not have much right to complain given how green and clean their city is compared to other cities. We have parks, sidewalks, the lush Margalla Hills, hiking trails and pine-tree-lined avenues. We don’t even allow rickshaws in town. What’s to complain about?
Islamabad ‘s master plan was famously made by a Greek firm and it is such a new city that its grid sectors don’t have any names but are known by English alphabets and numbers: G-10, F-11/4, F-6/2, I-8 and so on.
For such a famously well-planned city, my complaint – or rather, question – is: why do neighbourhoods get regularly broken up and then shoddily rebuilt? Every now and then, I wake up to a heart attack as soon as I leave my front gate: the sight of labourers hammering away at our driveway, front lawn, vast sections of sidewalks or a nearby street. And, if you notice, more and more parts of the city including market areas are also regularly dug up. What’s going on? Why has my walking path been ruined? For how long will it remain dug up? Is this why my Wi-Fi isn’t working? Why is this whole swathe of the Markaz destroyed? Why, without warning, is my landscaped and carefully tended front lawn being destroyed?
Most of these civil works are being carried out by the CDA while some of the digging is apparently done by internet companies to lay their new cables. Many times, I would have to ring PTCL to complain when our copper -based broadband cable was cut by the new companies. That PTCL had no clue their lines were being cut tells you how chaotic things are.
‘Destroyed’ is, honestly, the only word to use. The kind of carnage that follows breaking up cemented sidewalks, streets and roads to lay new water pipes or internet cables quickly dissipates any sense of Islamabad the Beautiful.
Without warning, labourers will start digging up your front lawn or driveway. They often are not comfortable with Urdu, so it is hard to get an idea of what’s happening while you are exploding at rage over the idea that all one’s money, efforts and carefully tended hedges, flowers, bushes and landscaping are being mercilessly destroyed. No CDA official is to be seen. There aren’t any notices or markers. Who is even supervising these people? I’ve learned that one must raise a hellish hue and cry – and essentially deny them permission. The contractor will arrive and announce that he is a CDA contractor to replace or lay a new water line. This contractor mostly has no ID or any papers to prove what he is saying. Further hue and cry will force a CDA official to come, who will blatantly lie to your face and say that they will put everything back together as it was, in two days’ time.
Just in the last few years, we have seen khokhas and tandoors demolished in our neighbourhood, in order to beautify a walking path which has been graveled, demarcated and painted. Apparently, rich people don’t just need a forested green belt without unsightly tandoors for their servants, but they need one with a walking path where their servants can walk their pedigreed dogs
Our landscaped front lawn was dug up for months and months and so was the CDA sidewalk. For most of 2021, the area remained dug up, virtual small hills of dirt. Finally, the destroyed sidewalk was just covered with dirt and not properly built back with the original cement. Same for our driveway, front lawn, adjacent streets and so on.
In the most recent standoff with the CDA official, I actually filed a Police Complaint against the complete lack of notice to us. One fine morning, I woke to see my cherished landscaped front lawn was being destroyed. I got the contractor to halt the works and stomped off to the nearby Police Station to write a lengthy, self-righteous complaint: pointing to a lack of notice, news, consultation with the home-owner, etc. and the emotional and monetary loss. The police were very cooperative and the CDA official assigned to our area also arrived. I raised the pitch of my complaints to feverish levels, going on about how long our area remains dug up and how much we are lied to. The CDA official got very angry and said he would bring a bulldozer to our house. This was all in the presence of my father, a retired ex-Ambassador who recently paid more than 250,000 rupees in annual property tax! I told my father, “Please don’t give them permission.” Being a woman, one has to often use a combination of personal indignation and relying on a male authority to make a stand. This scene went on and on and on until a site consultation was done and the CDA official said he would try to save our front lawn. Eventually we reached a quasi-compromise. All this happened in the presence of the police.
I am amazed at how much one must use screaming and noise to get heard here in Beautiful Islamabad. And after all that, I know that our front lawn will remain dug up and destroyed for the next several months and our 20-year old roses and precious fruit trees are in danger – for we can’t possibly keep guarding them 24/7, nor can we trust the CDA official or the contractor. I asked my father, “But how is this city being run? How and why is it being regularly destroyed and then shoddily being put together just to lay water lines? I mean, is this how a modern city should be run?” He launched into a long lecture on city administration, more advanced cities, how he had visited the Doxiadis office in Athens when he was posted there, and so on. He has a terrible temper in his old age and is pretty much angry about everything.
And so am I. It makes me livid that such poor management is on display when it comes to civil works. I am angry that homeowners are not even consulted when it comes to their neighborhoods and front lawns. We spend so much money and efforts in beautifying the front lawns – which are not technically even ours, but we do it for the love of gardening and natural beauty! This, in turn, contributes to the city’s beautification. My father has planted two fig trees, two eucalyptus trees, a huge bamboo forest, two pine trees, one neem tree, roses and jasmine: most of them 20 years ago. I, in turn, have added so much more and maintained and beautified it further. On top of it, we employ a local mali and, yes, we also pay property tax, which has exponentially been raised under the PTI government.
Just in the last few years, we have seen khokhas and tandoors demolished in our neighbourhood, in order to beautify a walking path which has been graveled, demarcated and painted. Apparently, rich people don’t just need a forested green belt without unsightly tandoors for their servants, but they need one with a walking path where their servants can walk their pedigreed dogs. But which nearby tandoor can these servants go to?
Similarly, it makes me angry that the person I am getting angry at is not a CDA official but often a Pashto-speaking labourer who just has a big hammer at his disposal to dig up more than 10 feet of cement and dirt, so as to lay a new water line to supply water to rich peoples’ houses. Everything about this process is disorganised, unfair and clearly non-transparent.
And so I must pose my core questions again.
How many times will the neighbourhood and wider city be cut, dug up and then shoddily put back together just to lay a new water line? Which kind of modern city management is this?