AFTER flying on their fancy bridges for long, Lahore’s minders have woken up to the need of going under at a crucial point. Kalma Chowk that has been subjected to much chopping and building under the current government is to be now given an underpass as well. As the sequence goes, they first made a road there, then came up with the bridges and are now digging for gold in the form of an underpass. Presuming all this is our top-most priority, shouldn’t they have begun with the underpass? The time is up for another few rows of trees, causing a lot of heartache to not just romantics but also to practical ones opposed to the arbitrary development model. In official books, the new underpass at Kalma Chowk was always on the cards and it was only a question of when. But still the entire exercise has come in for a lot of criticism. Much of this criticism has solid basis to it, often drawing upon the peculiar character of the city of Lahore, and made to sound like a long unending lament for lack of an official ear.
The antithesis is strong. Beginning with the more petty monetary side, a professional plan could have saved the taxpayers’ money. Under the erratic plan, of which Kalma Chowk is a prime example, newly laid roads have been dug up to create passages. If this wastage of public money spent on projects undertaken without any evidence of consultation with the people is not a big enough reason for concern, little heed has been paid to the argument which calls for spending money where it is more urgently needed. Where the environment and cultural preservation are concerned, these are subjects those who are trying to create a new Lahore virtually by submerging the old have never appeared to care for. It is almost impossible to get the message through to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif especially when he is in a creative mood. What his city requires at this moment is some relief from his speed, pause and reflection.