Sunday, March 20, 2011

Landmark turned crisis



The construction of “Mubarak Centre”, a huge commercial plaza on Lahore’s Ferozpur Road, close to the Muslim Town area, was started in 2006. According to the Environmental Impact Assessment report of the project, the main building was going to have 74 floors (thus making it the tallest building in Pakistan); the other three annexes were
going to have 54 floors. It was going to be a huge structure with
a three storey basement and a group of buildings. Wikipedia claims that the centre would have a height of 1947 feet, to commemorate the year of Pakistan’s birth and would allow a glimpse of the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, from its observation deck.
The company’s officials verified that 70 percent of the shares of this project are owned by a Dubai-based company while 30 percent of the shares are owned by the Punjab provincial government, with a total approximate cost of ---?--- Pakistani rupees. The construction was expected to generate considerable employment and in the long run, bring in many economic benefits to the area. However, in 2008, the project was abruptly halted.
One reason, perhaps, was the international recession that badly affected the UAE and caused the majority-shareholder company to withdraw funding. However, a government official believes that the anticipated construction of a flyover on Ferozpur Road caused the delay because the Mubarak Centre was going to connect its building to its parking plaza across the road by an over-head bridge which clashed with the flyover idea, ,and that the Punjab government was not cooperating with the company in this regard. In September 2009, Punjab opposition leader, Chaudhry Pervez Elahi, told Geo TV that the improper attitude of the Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif had, in fact, forced the project’s investors to depart. Yet another issue with the project is that some eight houses are directly linked to the huge plot that was dug to accommodate the projects’ three storey basement. The residents were hopeful that once the building was constructed, it would provide support to their construction but this hasn’t happened.
For the last four years now, this plot has been abandoned and the houses connected directly to this plot, have their foundations dangerously exposed.
The Sufi group of industries has its head office in this location.
“Our walls and floors are cracking,” says Ghulam Nabi, the manager and in-charge of Sufi group. “We have been filling them up with cement. We cannot shift our office because we have invested considerably in this property but the monsoons or harsh weather can have a perilous outcome.”
TNS contacted an official of the UAE company behind the project, who told us on condition of anonymity that they had no idea when the construction would restart.
Dr. Shahid Mahmood, also a resident of the area, has been displaced from his abode since the three months because the very foundations of his house have been weakened beyond repair, and it is on the brink of collapse. He has now shifted with his family to a guest house.
“We are living on the edge of hell,” says Shahid. “We don’t know for how long we have to live in this guest house. My daughter is getting married, we are having trouble arranging the wedding and meeting the demands of the medical profession.”
Dr. Shahid wrote to the company many times. Eventually he wrote to the Supreme Court’s Human Rights cell which referred his case to the DCO of Lahore city. The DCO investigated the matter and eventually wrote to the Supreme Court that Dr. Shahid’s property has been permanently damaged. In February 2010, Ziauddin Mian, an independent civil engineer and retired professor of the University of Engineering and Technology also made an investigation on request of Shahid and confirmed that the house was critically endangered. On 23rd December 2010, the UAE company sent its local engineering consultant, Akbar Shirazi, director of a construction company called SAMPAK, to make a similar check. He advised that Dr. Shahid Mahmood and his family be immediately removed from the house. Although living in a guest house provided by the company since the last three months, Dr. Shahid has not heard from them since. The DCO’s report is lined up for hearing in the Supreme Court and he is eagerly waiting this.
The company official claims that they held a public hearing on 15th December 2007 in Sunfort hotel, Lahore, where they invited all stakeholders to come and present their complaints/objections, yet no-one objected. It must be clarified here that the major problem isn’t being caused by the construction but the lack of it, in fact. Since the dug up plot is 60 feet deep, the effect on the nearby houses is the same as if they were sited on a hill about to landslide. The sides of the plot are eroding.
“Serious damage was caused when they tested the soil. It sent earthquake like tremors and weakened our construction,” says Ghulam Nabi, “they have used cement to hold the walls in place but it’s not sufficient.”
Piling of walls is a serious business. In recent times, in Lahore, the Masood Hospital’s illegal construction came to the notice of the government when the piling fell and Alamgir Plaza’s rear side collapsed and raised concerns about the construction strength of the building.
According to the No Objection Certificate (NOC) issued to the Mubarak Centre by the Environmental Protection Department, the owners will have to give compensation to any property damaged in the adjacent area.
“The NOC issued for the Mubarak Centre has to be conditional,” says Rafay Alam, lawyer and founding member of Lahore Bachao Movement. “The construction has to meet environmental mitigation standards. Above all, it has to be finished in a given period of time because if the material is left in the open, its quality deteriorates.” Rafay added that this site and would-be skyscraper is in the way of Walton airport’s runway and also requires an NOC from the airport, or the civil aviation authorities. “Any building in the 16 km diameter of the airport needs to get its height approved from the Civil Aviation Authority or else it is illegal.”
Hence, the affected can go to a court of law to get compensation for damages, or write to the Environmental Protection Department to send the owners a notice. Hopefully, bureaucratic hurdles won’t delay justice or cause loss of life.

 The articled was first published in the News on Sunday

1 comment:

  1. Great work on the blog! Check out mine. Got loads to write on Lahore! :)

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