Use of land in Pakistan is widely decided by big real estate developers backed by politicians without any environmental and social considerations. And, Centaurus Mall in Islamabad, commonly known as The Centaurus, is a genuine proof of this reality. The upscale business centre, owned by Sardar Tanvir Ilyas the Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), has just been sealed “on account of non-conforming use” of land. An adviser to the PM of AJK, although calls it a case of “political victimisation” but it cannot be denied that grave land encroachments as well as building bylaws were blatantly violated during planning and construction of the mega mixed-use development.
Political Connection in The Centaurus
The decision to briefly shut down the mall came after an argument between Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif and Azad Jammu Kashmir Prime Minister Sardar Tanvir Ilyas during a ceremony in Mangla, as reported.
Without delaying, the cat came out of bag when PTI Chairman Imran Khan claimed via his Twitter account “PDM mafia’ sealed the mall in response to PM Ilyas censuring PM Sharif. “Sealing of Centaurs Mall by PDM mafia in response to PM AJK censuring Shehbaz Sharif for not mentioning sacrifices of Kashmiris shows there is law of the jungle in Pak since last 8 months. . . .”. Then PTI General Secretary Asad Umar said that when AJK PM “showed the mirror to Shehbaz Sharif, the government became vindictive and sealed Mall to cause PM AJK financial and business losses- this is naked fascism”.
CDA Notices to The Centaurus
However, the CDA opined the move to shut down the mall was not “sealed because of political issue”. “The sealing operation is purely a routine activity; we served a number of notices to its owners for violations before sealing it”, he tried to clarify.
The first notice was issued on March 7, 2014, the second on October 25, 2019, the third on December 28, 2020, and then on March 31, 2021. The penultimate notice was sent on October 11, 2021, and the sixth and final notice was issued on November 23, 2022 — all to no response. Subsequently, in a notification issued on December 2, the regulator ordered to shut the mall on account of the failure to “remove building violations”.
The notification read: “Consequent upon the persistent non-compliance to remove building violations conveyed vide numerous 15 days notices served by Building Control Directorate […] and a show-cause notice […] the sealing order of the subject premises/property is hereby issued, in accordance with ’Islamabad Capital Territory Building Control Regulations, 2020 framed there under CDA Ordinance, 1960 and terms and conditions of allotment/sale agreement.”
Violation of Building Bylaws in The Centaurus
It is pertinent to mention here that the management of the mall has been clearly breaching the law by utilizing the residential area of the Centaurus mall for commercial use. The mega mall already violated its approved design besides several other irregularities as 32 storeys were constructed in respect of Block A and B against the approved 30 storeys, while in Block-C, 30 storeys were constructed against the approved 29 storeys.
The CDA leased out 32,040 square yards to M/S Pak Gulf for Rs 6 billion for the construction of a hotel, shopping area and residential apartments. The firm completed the shopping mall and residential apartments but did not construct the five-star hotel. The delay in approved five star hotel in its construction is itself a violation of the terms of allotment. More so, the management has also constructed offices within the parking area minimizing the space resulting into nuisance and rush on either sides of the building.
Even in the designing approval of the Mall, the CDA has serious concerns pertaining to provision of utilities specially electricity, sewage disposal and traffic management. But then the civic body really appeared toothless while taking action against Centaurus Mall as compared to other skyscrapers besides its violation of a high magnitude. But this time the situation apparently looks different.
Recent Fire Incident
Also, this is not the first time when the Centaurus Mall has been sealed, as earlier in October this year, an incident of fire broke out in inside causing its closure. According to police, electric short-circuiting at a restaurant located in the food court area of the mall caused the fire which spread to the residential apartment of the high-rise. The capital’s deputy commissioner then said the shopping centre and nearby residential buildings were sealed until the technical team got reports “on the structural capability of the towers after this fire”.
Although, thereafter the Mall opened silently but the incident has raised questions on the security of tall residential complexes that are becoming a norm in Pakistan as more and more people are opting for apartments.