LAHORE, Dec 15: It seems the prime objective of a Rs480 million investment in rehabilitation and remodelling of the two-kilometre long M.M. Alam Road is to facilitate an ‘influential’ business group, which is building a 29-storey shopping mall in Gulberg. The business group, owned by a close relative of a top political figure of Punjab, already owns a 13-storey building in this area, it is learnt.
Sources told Dawn that before the group started work on its new building on M.M. Alam Road, the Lahore Development Authority (LDA) paved the way for its construction by revising its commercialisation policy and allowing construction of buildings of any height on various roads.
They said the policy, which was revised around six months ago, allowed construction of high-rises on various roads in Gulberg, including the Main Boulevard, Hali Road, Shahrah-e-Noor Jahan, Shahrah-e-Quaid-e-Azam, Tariq Road, the road behind the Liberty market, Link Road (Main Market) and Park Road. They said as the LDA was unable to allow construction of city’s tallest building on M.M. Alam Road keeping in view its width and other legal issues, it revised its commercialisation policy and declared many roads open for buildings of any height and parking space.
“M.M. Alam Road is 60-foot wide and generally the tallest building here should not have more than six storeys, but you can see that work on city’s tallest building is under way here,” says Dr Mahmood Hussain, an independent construction expert. He says this is the general practice of the LDA to close its eyes at the time of construction of high-rises in the city and then suddenly wake up to take action against the violations of building bylaws. Hussain says that construction of multi-storey buildings on city roads of narrow width such as M.M. Alam Road was not only dangerous for the public, but it would also have its environmental impact.
According to an official who requested anonymity, M.M. Alam Road is 80-foot wide and buildings up to 150-foot high could be built here. “According to a formula, the height of any building in a commercial zone is allowed after calculating/multiplying the total width of the road with 1.5 and then adding the width of the setback area (space left by the owner for parking etc. on a proposed building land in the original plan/drawings) to the total sum.” He said as the construction of the building in question was not possible under the law, the LDA first revised/relaxed its policy to facilitate the business group and then started rehabilitation, remodelling and beautification of the road with millions of rupees. “There was no need to revise the policy if the construction of buildings up to 300-foot or above was allowed on a 80-foot road,” he added.Another official said the money (Rs480 million) being spent on M. M. Alam Road alone was equal to the total annual budget of at least four town municipal administrations. “If you calculate the annual budget of Gulberg, Nishtar, Data Ganj Bakhsh and Ravi towns or any other four towns of the city, you will find the amount more or less equal to the funds allocated for this road,” says the official.
The LDA commercialisation policy 2008 on key commercial roads, road-wise building height and other legal formalities seems to be confusing. On the one hand the policy says that the height of any building in the central area should not exceed 1.5 times the width of the right of way plus the width of the building line in front of the plot/width of the setback area and on the other it allows construction of buildings up to 200-foot high and above on plots measuring less or more than six kanals. He said that under the formula only a 150-foot high building could be allowed on M.M. Alam Road.
Business group’s Chief Financial Officer Adnan Saeed dismissed the impression that the road was being rehabilitated to facilitate his group. He says: “As per the policy, we can build a building even higher than 295-foot”. He said that work on the building was started after completing all legal formalities and nothing was done in violation of the law.
LDA Director General Ahad Cheema said M.M Alam Road was not being rehabilitated to facilitate any individual. He said the building in question was being constructed in accordance with buildings rules and policy. He said that height of any building was decided keeping in view the floor area ratio and ground coverage of the plot and required construction. He said the plan to rehabilitate/remodel M.M. Alam Road was prepared last year and funds were released recently. “Nothing was done on a fast track to facilitate any specific group or businessman,” he added.