‘Sahil Bachao’: The Battle for Karachi’s Waterfront

Posted on April 18, 2007
Filed Under >Adil Najam, Economy & Development, Environment
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Adil Najam

Social Activist and Architect Arif HasanWhile we have been, rightly, been engrossed in the agitations going on in Pakistan regarding the ongoing saga of the Chief Justice’s removal and the vigilantism of the Lal Masjid squad, there has been another set of agitations brewing up in Karachi that relate to the battle for Pakistan’s coastline (also here); in particular for Karachi’s waterfront.

On the one side are those who see the development of the waterfront with shiny glass and steel buildings as a symbol of the ‘ new and improved’ Pakistan. On the other hand are those who see fault such projects for ignoring environmental, social and equity concerns. Leading social activist and architect Arif Hasan is one of the leaders of the ‘Sahil Bacho’ campaign that held a rally recently in Karachi and is also leading an online petition process.

For those advocating the ‘development’ of the Karachi coastline, the waterfront project is a grand achievement. See, for example, this press release by the company Limitless.

DUBAI, 5 June 2006. Dubai World has revealed that Limitless, its integrated international real estate developer, will spearhead the newly announced Karachi Waterfront development. The announcement was made during a ceremony in Islamabad, attended by H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai and Shaukat Aziz, Prime Minister of Pakistan. The MoU to this effect was signed by Pakistani Minister of State for Privatisation and Investment, Umar Ahmed Ghuman and Dubai World Chairman Sultan bin Sulayem.

Revealing the details of the project, Chairman Sultan bin Sulayem said, “We are delighted to lead the development of the Karachi Waterfront project. This is a major project, involving phased development of the 25,000 ha. site, west of Karachi. It will be a new Karachi. Limitless’ focus on creating balanced developments for large urban communities will, we believe, ensure that the development meets the economic and social needs of the government and the people of Pakistan.”

The CEO of Limitless, Saeed Ahmed Saeed added, “At this stage, the exact elements of the master-plan are being finalized considering the overall needs of the people and the best approach to develop a self-sustaining community.”

Phase 1 of the project will involve an investment of USD 20 bn. over the next ten years for developing more than 2000 ha. of prime water-front property. Subsequent phases of the project are expected to involve much larger investments. Karachi Waterfront will evolve as Limitless prepares the master plan in line with local and Government needs. It will contain a defined and carefully weighted balance of residential, commercial, recreational and entertainment facilities. The new city will also be home to Special Economic Zones, creating a hub for trading, manufacturing and services industry. All components of the development will be supported by a world-class infrastructure and amenities.

The project is part of the Government of Pakistan’s initiative to relieve pressure on the existing city and attract investment and visitors to Pakistan.

Karachi Waterfront is the first international project to be announced by Limitless since the company was officially launched in April, 2006. Company sources reveal that several other projects are in the pipeline, in Dubai and elsewhere, and will be announced shortly.

“The business of creating balanced developments is a challenging one. It is a relatively new science, which requires a great deal of research, flexibility and a multi-disciplinary approach to ensure that the balance sought is not only achievable but sustainable. In the coming months we hope to be able to reveal more details on other projects – but only when we are confident that we have found the best solution to address the needs of each community,” Saeed added.

This video is set in a similar tone of great achievement and grand vision.

Karachi Waterfront

On the other hand those leading the Sahil Bacho campaign see very serious problems. For example, the Sahil Bacho (Save Karachi’s Beaches) Petition says:

“The entire beach and its back waters from Hawksbay to Manora is to be developed as real estate. The Hawksbay Sandspit area as Sugar Land City and the Manora ridge as a 20 storey five star hotel. Manora is to be linked to Keamari with a bridge and the development is to continue along the coast upto the golf club. There is nothing wrong with development but this will deprive millions of Karachiites and people from outside of Karachi, who visit the beach for recreational and entertainment purposes, access to the bach. I feel the Karachi “elite” must do something about this.”Arif Hasan, Architect


  1. We, the undersigned citizens of Karachi oppose DHA’s Beach Development Plan and demand an immediate end to its implementation as it prevents the common person’s free access to the beach, contravenes the law, and will cause immense environmental damage.
  2. Land grabbers have planned to deprive once again the citizens of Pakistan, of their only sea front asset shared by millions of citizens. Their Development Plan consists of developing the area between the coastal road and the sea which at present is mostly undeveloped making access to the Beach possible. This development plan consists of seven zones in the 14 km strip between MacDonald’s and Creek Club.
  3. All 14 kilometres of beach will eventually consist of commercial complexes, office blocks, multi-storey car parks, posh restaurants, amusement and theme parks (for which an entrance fee will be charged), a tramway track along the beach (whose fare has been estimates at Rs. 90 per trip, an expo centre complex, vocational dwellings, elite clubs, expensive hotels, high-rise condominiums, a water sports stadium, and a marina.
  4. This development will destroy the natural environment of the coast and will make almost the entire beach inaccessible to the citizens of Pakistan, especially to the low and lower middle income communities who will not be able to afford the cost of the expensive entertainment being proposed and will be excluded simply by the nature of developments that are to be implemented
  5. No one can take away the right of the citizens of Pakistan to access their beach. Under international and domestic law, the beach area is for public use and everyone, regardless of income, has the right to free access to the beach without obstacles or interference. This is a principle enshrined in the public trust doctrine.
  6. We strongly oppose a development plan that will finish off the only natural multi-class recreational space available to Karachites and as a result will further socially fragment an already fragmented city. The beach is a public spot we share with the many hundreds of thousands of our countrymen who visit Clifton Beach every week and belong to all classes and ethnic groups. A plan that shuts out a majority of Pakistan’s population is unacceptable.
  7. We have already seen the “gentrification” of the beach by the imposition of a fee of Rs 10 per person as entry to Beach front Park. This Park controls access to the beach and therefore prevents low and lower middle income citizens from enjoying the beach. We can not allow any further such developments.
  8. We are not against theme parks, marinas, expo centres and expensive hotels and condominiums, but it is our considered opinion that for environmental and social reasons the area between the coastal road and the high water mark should be unencroached, construction free and accessible to the public free of cost as is the case in other South and South-East Asian countries and in the developed world.
  9. The Karachi Coastal Management Plan, prepared in 1989 by the KDA Master Plan Department with UN assistance, as part of the Karachi Development Plan 2000, had recommended a 50 metre construction free accessible zone beyond the high water mark. We feel that this Coastal Management Plan should be followed.
  10. As children we have had free and unrestricted access to Clifton Beach as did our parents. Our children (in some cases our grand children) should also enjoy the same benefit.
  11. We derive strength from the fact that 4,665 persons belonging to 73 CBOs and NGOs from all over Pakistan and individuals belonging to 89 low and lower middle income areas of Karachi have supported concerns of the Sahil Bachao Movement whose concerns are similar to ours.

Public consultation on any development like this has to be a corner stone of good planning and public contestation in the civic space is a sign of a healthy and deliberative society. There is much that is still unknown about the project and a lack of transparency and participation can only breed skepticism. Moreover, the concerns about land-grabbing, environmental deterioration and social injustice are important and serious ones. It would be good, therefore, if more dialogue and discussion happens on this and the deliberative process confronts the key questions of ‘what type fo development do we want?’ … ‘development for whom?’ … and ‘development how?’

It is in this regards that I thought the editorial in today’s The News (April 18, 2007) began asking the right questions:

Though the country’s masses have thus far been largely cut off from the privatisation process currently underway in Pakistan, the plan to sell off and develop Karachi’s public beaches has met with stiff opposition from a large number of citizens. The cause has been taken up by various citizens’ groups and NGOs, who organised a walk in the city on Sunday to protest the plans to ‘develop’ the coastline. Unlike other campaigns to reverse privatisation drives, the dissent in this particular case does not seem to be fuelled by political motives. It is largely social and backed by citizens belonging to varying walks of life, ranging from the fishermen community to the more affluent members of society. Hence, this presents, or should present, a very different set of circumstances. While authorities can justify shrugging off protests against other privatisation drives — such as KESC, PTCL and PSO — as being motivated by political agendas, this time round things seem to be different. There is, therefore, a need on the part of the authorities to pay close heed to this campaign.

The privatisation of Karachi’s beaches, while supposedly to beautify and develop the coastline along the lines of Dubai, has a direct bearing on a large part of the city’s citizenry, and while it aims to benefit the well-heeled, it seems to be ignoring that a large part of the city will not be able to utilise the fruits of such development. One such project, known as the DHA waterfront project, aims to develop, with the help of private enterprise, the 14-kilometre stretch of beach popularly known as Sea View and erect shopping plazas, cinemas, five-star hotels, water parks and so on. This is to be linked by a bridge to Manora Island, where a hotel is going to be built. Beyond that, and further west, several kilometres of the city’s famed Sandspit and Hawke’s Bay are to be developed by a UAE-based developer. In preparation for this planned ‘development’, owners of hundreds of recreational ‘huts’ situated along these beaches have reportedly received notices that they will be asked to vacate the area.

While that, on the face of it, may seem to be a commendable venture, it is said that, aside from putting out of business the fishermen and smaller entrepreneurs in the area, as well as being harmful to the eco-system of the beach, the project will make 30 per cent of Karachi’s coastline inaccessible to about 95 per cent of the city’s population. Considering that the city is already starved of entertainment outlets, Sea View and other city beaches provide the people some much-needed respite. In fact going to these beaches has been part of many a Karachi resident’s growing up and it seems that this all is going to change.

In the end, the question that arises is whether development, sans the support and confidence of the people, is justifiable — no matter how beneficial authorities may claim it to be. Projects foisted upon citizens, not only of Karachi, but of various cities across Pakistan, without taking into account the views and concerns of all stakeholders, especially those that are to be directly affected by them, are not the best way of going about developing a country. If it must be done, it should be done with the consensus of the people — especially if it entails the sale of public property — which means a thorough debate in parliament and complete transparency with regard to what is being planned and the whole bidding process to choose developers. The level of official secrecy surrounding such projects only leads to a situation where concerned civil society begins to wonder what exactly the aim of such development is and who is to actually benefit from it. A point also needs to be made about priorities. The country’s commercial and business capital has no solid waste management and garbage collection system, large chunks of its population get water delivered through tankers and there is no mass transit system, but those in the government insist on having plans of building 30-storey high hotels and fanciful bridges in the middle of the ocean. As if one Rs225 million rupee fountain wasn’t enough.

56 responses to “‘Sahil Bachao’: The Battle for Karachi’s Waterfront”

  1. Bananafish says:

    Looks like it’s failed to culminate. I think. I can’t read the full article. Let’s see if someone else covers it.

    http://www.meed.com/news/2008/07/limitless_fails_t o_finalise_karachi_waterfront_deal.html

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