LAHORE: A GARDEN TO GARBAGE CITY  

STRAIGHT TALK by Hafeez Khan

The New Year brought glad tidings for Lahore from one of the most prominent and influential newspaper in the world, the New York Times. In its Travel section it selected “52 Places to Love in 2021” out of 2,000 possible locations recommended by their readers. They had asked them to suggest spots that have delighted, inspired and comforted them in a dark year. The suggestions were sought “to remind us that the world still awaits us”.

Lahore’s write-up was inspiringly penned by a 29 year-old freelance writer from Toronto, Haneen Iqbal. She wrote “Lahore, Pakistan especially in winter nourishes you. It opens its arms to you, then feeds you and wraps you in a hug.” She described the exotic fabrics in Liberty Market, and chicken karahi and many foods “that practically sang as it made its way into our mouths.”

She goes onto describe “Lahoris are some of the kindest, most hospitable people. They love to take care of you and feed you. Summers may be oppressive, but in winter, cool dusk lights twinkle in the fog. Androon Lahore is city’s historic core studded with monuments from Mughal era. Watching Punjabis feasting on terraces overlooking ‘Badshahi Mosque’ is a delight.” She encapsulates the Lahori spirit beautifully, “regular people living regular lives. They are so alive in the present while always connected to their past.”

“Jinnay Lahore nain dekhya o jamia he nahin” translates “whoever has not seen Lahore is yet to be born.” It is a treasure borne in the hearts of those who have lived or experienced Lahore. That beauty and ambiance is under threat today due to negligence, gross mismanagement and incompetence of CM Buzdar; our yet to be born “Wasim Akram Plus”. The scent of the rose gardens is being replaced by the stench of garbage lying on the roads and streets of Lahore.

It is a tragedy of epic proportions unfolding before our eyes. Lahore produces nearly 5000 MT of garbage every day. Keeping the city clean is the responsibility of Lahore Waste Management Company, a public sector enterprise. In 2013 it awarded a five-year contract to two Turkish companies ending in 2018, for a value more than ten times the existing expense for this activity.

Like most contracts awarded by Sharif Brothers, this lacked transparency. Serious questions were raised and still exist about kickbacks and underhand dealings which are a matter under investigation by NAB. However, the Turkish contractors were able to keep 80% of Lahore reasonably clean. It was used as a success story in comparison to the garbage littered streets of Karachi.

PTI Government was installed in 2018 with CM Buzdar heading the biggest province.  It faced multiple challenges including a deviant bureaucracy, empty coffers and a fragile majority in the Assembly. An assertive and energetic leadership was the need of the hour. It was required to plan and implement the promised reforms in system and governance. Among the biggest challenges was to make Lahore a “Clean and Green City.” The cleaning services were to play a pivotal role. The waste management authority bought itself time giving the Turkish contractors an extension.

Keeping Lahore clean is a serious priority. CM Buzdar’s Government was required to take a leadership role in ensuring continuity of providing this basic civic amenity. It was aware of the burning need to either put out a new tender or negotiate with the existing contractors. It spent two years in planning and came up with NO plan. The extension ran out in December 2020. The existing contractors were fired and no alternate capability was in place. What a disaster.

The chicken came home to roost in December 2020. Turks demobilized, garbage piled up and CM Buzdar held meetings. As a knee jerk reaction and a desperate move, Waste Management Company attempted to strong arm the contractors by confiscating their equipment and facilities. The defiant Turks sought relief from the Courts. The bottom line is that 9000 plus kilometers of Lahore’s streets are littered with garbage and 8500 bins spread all over town have become dumping sites.

Presiding over this debacle, CM Buzdar in the 26th meeting on this issue royally decreed the garbage to be removed in 48 hours. Cute but Naive. Wakeup Mr. CM and smell the coffee. There is no magic wand that you can wave and garbage will disappear. Did you not learn from similar pronouncements in Karachi? Garbage collection requires systems, capability and expertise. You seem to possess none of it. You have presented the greatest gift to PDM; public discontent that they could not muster despite their rallies!

In my travels I have seen garbage being used as fuel to generate electricity. I am aware that through efforts of overseas Pakistanis, a North American company has submitted a proposal to invest $300 million in Lahore to generate 80 MW daily using 3000 MT of garbage. It will not cost the Government a cent and two such plants will clear Lahore’s garbage. They are being kicked around various departments for last 10 months in the hope that they will get exhausted and leave. It will be national tragedy. Imagine such plants operating around the country disposing garbage and meeting our energy needs.

As always, I urge PM IK to kick some butts and push this lethargy personified CM Buzdar into action so we can have a “Clean and Green” Lahore. A garden city where we can smell the roses again.

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