World Bank’ Home Financing to Malir Expressway Criticism; Infocus Weekly Briefs

by M. Wasim

13 March, 2022

World Bank for low-cost housing

The World Bank has approved $435 million in financing to Pakistan for three housing sector projects mainly in Punjab. In an announcement, the Bank said the financing would be made available to the Pakistan Housing Finance project, the Punjab Urban Land Systems Enhancement project and the Punjab Affordable Housing Program. These projects will expand access to housing finance, particularly for low-income households, improve land tenure rights and facilitate affordable housing developments in urban Punjab

These projects will contribute to addressing housing needs, particularly for low-income households, by leveraging the private sector and by facilitating access to mortgage options for those who currently cannot access financing to buy a home. The financing will also strengthen property rights and increase the supply of climate-resilient, affordable housing developments.

Malir Expressway Project criticized for environment violations

In the public hearing for the Malir Expressway project this week a Sindh government official present there conceded to have kicked off construction work on a 15-kilometre strip of the project without approval of Sindh Environmental Protection Agency. The approval from the environmental watchdog is a must before starting any construction work for development projects under the Section 17(1) of the Sepa Act 2014.

Giving a presentation, the project consultant said that the 38.75 km long and 30-metre-wide expressway would cost Rs 27.5bn and would be completed in 30 months. A table showing possible affected structures projected that 366 residential properties, 31 shops and other commercial properties, 14 religious structures; including mosques and shrines, three cattle sheds, four tube wells and as many government properties, including a cricket ground, would be affected. `But, Sepa worked to mitigate and cut the damage to eight to 10 residential properties, and the revisions are still being done”, the official said.

 The affectees and activists raised concerns about the climate destruction that would happen due to the carpeting of asphalt and use of concrete in the construction. They said there was a high probability of heatwaves hitting the city due to concrete structure that could affect the overall environment of Karachi. While participant also raised concern whether the project was actually for the people of Karachi or just to support the real estate developers, who had constructed societies, including Bahria Town Karachi and DHA City, on the outskirts of the city.

FBR revises new property valuations

The Federal Board of Revenue finally has rationalised this wek the valuations to bring an end to uncertainty in the real estate market. The FBR has been gradually bringing its property valuation rates closer to market value ever since it was authorised to notify valuations in the main urban centres of the country in 2016. The tax authority has since raised its valuations two times, i.e. in 2018 and 2019.

However, when the third and the latest upward revision was made the FBR attracted severe criticism from realtors and other stakeholders for this `illogical and unreasonable` upward revision, which forced the government to suspend the implementation of new rates until an understanding was reached. Therefore this week after consultation with stakeholders, the FBR finally decreased the valuations to bring an end to uncertainty in the real estate market.

Criticism on LDA`s new policy on high-rises, commercialisation

Lahore Conservation Society Information Secretary Dr Ajaz Anwar says the idea of high rises and commercialisation of roads will play havoc with the city life. Many other experts also term the policy of the Lahore Development Authority to allow construction of high-rise buildings and commercial activities in the frozen zones of the city declaring it flawed, haphazard and unlikely to achieve the revenue objectives.

The LDA governing body in February 2022 had approved a plan to boost commercial activities on 10 roads of the city by allowing construction of highrises along them. The government had introduced an amendment to the LDA`s Building and Zoning Regulations-2019, under which the restrictions on the buildings` height were removed, allowing construction of skyscrapers in the high-end zones of Lahore. The roads where high rises without any height limit were introduced were Burki Road, Raiwind Road, Maulana Shaukat Ali Road, Johar Town Bypass Road, Raiwind Road, Defense Road, Multan Road, PIA Road, Zafar Ali Road and Canal Road.

Dr. Ajaz Anwar says the authority is devising the Lahore Master Plan without knowing and conducting any research about the character of the city. He says the `city of gardens` has already become warmer and the new high rises and commercialisation policy will stop fresh air, sunlight and a peaceful and healthy environment for the citizens. He says the LDA officials, who suggest such policies, are only minting money and the government representatives, who approve these policies, don`t know about the ground realities of the city.

Banks offer loans to convert fuel tube-wells to solar power

The State Bank of Pakistan has allowed commercial banks to extend cheaper loans for conversion of tube-well operations to solar power for availing the net metering facility.  The power distribution companies have started receiving an overwhelming response from such consumers across the country.

Under the provisions, the tubewell connections seeking net metering on a load up to 25kW will not require permission from the National Electric Power Regulatory Authority for the grant of generation license.

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