Kamil sahib has a long standing association with the old Walled City of Lahore, even before Walled City Mohalla Baazee started working in the area, for which he is most popularly known for. This chapter started when a local from the old Walled City filed a petition, stating that propertites were being demolished in the area and were being replaced by commercial plazas, damaging his private property which had been in his family since generations. Apparently the Walled City Authority was also not taking any steps against this activity, as per its mandate. As a result the court appointed a three-member committee to investigate the issue on ground and Kamil sahib was one of the members.
The Walled City has a rich heritage and a unique multiclass system, where people from the lowest strata of society to rulers lived in the same area, interacting closely during festivities and grief. Most important of all was the justice system, which was not only accessible but quite swift, especially compared to today’s system. During the British Raj the city centre shifted from the Walled City to the Cantonment. With this shift investment moved outside the walls of the city, turning the mohala from a multiclass to a mono-strata area.
Post-partition, the Lahore Development Trust was formed and followed the latest development process, ignoring the requirements for rehabilitation of the Walled City, large parts of which had been destroyed at the time of independence. Locals who could afford to move out started doing so and given the financial success of commercializing entire units more and more people followed suit, turning the heart of the city into a commercial mayhem with the poorest of the poor from all across the country filling in the residential vacuum.
“Fast forward to recent times and commercial development is taking place at an accelerated pace with the addition of violence and dirty politics in the mix. There is a need to democratize the system in order to cut out these elements.” All of these suggestions were submitted to the court by the three member committee and a response is still awaited. Instead of waiting for action from authorities, which is nowhere in sight, the committee members and other stake holders decided to start the dialogue process under the umbrella of Walled City Mohalla Baazee, which continues to date on a regular bases at the grassroots level.
When asked about the core environment issue we are facing, Kamil sahib in his unique style linked it to the modern development paradigm, which he says is based on the definition of development and growth in terms of economic growth alone. Making this a globally accepted phenomenon.
“Development is not a goal, it is a process. You develop something or you develop into something.” This ‘something’ has not been defined, resulting in a development rat race that is headed nowhere.
“The environment should be on everyone’s priority list, especially in Pakistan. Our poverty level is staggering, even in developing urban centres, but rural areas are worse off. The majority of Pakistan’s population lives on $1.4 which is below the international poverty line of $2. People spend whatever they have on basic necessities. The biggest dent on their pockets are medical bills, which are directly linked to issues caused by environmental degradation; air pollution, food quality, water and the list goes on and on. The connection is common sense.”
With all of his experience does he see things heading in the right direction anytime soon?
“We do what we do, what we believe to be right, not because we expect to change the world but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Fatima Arif is Sr Officer Digital Media, WWF-Pakistan