After security, garbage collection is the biggest challenge faced by the largest city of the country. In a recent conference on ‘Functional Democracy’ a speaker raised the issue that we now need the Chinese to help to dispose our waste. Prompt came the reply that Karachi is following the footsteps of Lahore where the contract has been awarded to a Turkish company. It seems garbage politics is on the agenda of the two main political parties (PML-N and PPP).

Lahore Waste Management Company (LWMC) has raised the bar for others to follow. According some estimates the annual contract is worth Rs. 3 to 4 billion with the involvement of an offshore company. Money is first sent to Dubai from where it reaches Ankara. It is a complete network, garbage is collected from the city and then dumped at a waste dump site where it is kept aerated to be used for power generation and compost production, both the loops are currently non-functional.

It is perhaps the world’s most expensive garbage network. Now the rulers of Karachi want to capture the same bonanza by bringing in the Chinese at an annual contract in the range of Rs. 6 to 7 billion. The government of Sindh will then be able bypass the standards set by their partners in crime in Punjab.

Yes Lahore is clean and the garbage is disposed at the dump site, but at what cost and who is skimming the fat? It is a perfect case for NAB to investigate. The city had a functional sanitary system till the seventies. Garbage was regularity collected and disposed, streets were washed. Lahore Municipal Corporation (LMC) even ran primary schools, fire brigade and inoculations and sprays were regularly carried out. Even the Lahore Omnibus Service (LOS) came out of the city government, which provided cheap and efficient transport.

PPP just finished celebrating its Founder’s Day in Lahore where it was launched in 1967 as a party of change. First it was the party of the brilliant leader Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto (ZAB) whose legacy was then encashed by his courageous daughter Benazir Bhutto. After her assassination in 2007 the party then fell into the lap of her husband Asif Ali Zardari. Both PPP and PML-N now enjoy the fruits of Charter of Democracy (COD) which now represents dacoity. There are a lot of people who criticise the policies of ZAB but no one has ever accused him of financial irregularities. Zardari has converted Bhutto’s party into another version of PML-N. All the comrades have either left or have been sidelined. PPP has turned into PPP-Z.

Now Bilawal is presenting himself as heir apparent to the political legacy of his maternal grandfather. Will he be able to erase the Zardari stigma and discontinue his methods only time will tell, but it is indeed a daunting task. He can start with Sindh and its capital city where his party is in power. After all garbage disposal in Karachi should not be that difficult and expensive as it is in Lahore where the leaders of PML-N are ruling.

In engineering we were taught, “garbage in is garbage out”. This garbage politics will lead us nowhere. Both PML-N and PPP-Z will drown us in garbage unless we decide to swim out of this current of corruption where even our waste and refuse is not spared. Only garbage will come out of such politics while we spend billions on its disposal.

In 1958 when Ayub Khan imposed martial law he promised to cleanse politics through Elected Bodies Disqualification Ordinance (EBDO). It was un-necessary then as most politicians were honest, it is indeed the need of the hour today to get rid of garbage politics. All elected legislators since 1985 should stand disqualified under EBDO unless they get themselves cleared through a credible legal process. There should be an independent assessment of their assets and the phenomenal increases that came with abuse of authority should be probed and then recovered.

Our major cities had functional garbage collection and disposal mechanisms. With growing population, the system could have been expanded. The supervisors or “Daroghas” as they were called had a pivotal role in monitoring the process. There was a complaint cell at LMC where citizens were heard and redressal mechanisms was effective. Nation building was high on the agenda and everyone felt responsible. I remember the system of functional public toilets. The latest being next to the old campus across the street from the Old Tollington Market on the Mall.

With the first martial law in 1958 the focus shifted from public good to the welfare of the few. “Daroghas” stopped visiting the streets instead they ensured cleanliness and garbage collection of the area of the powerful. The drama has continued unabated since then with minor breaks in-between. Now this need has become a source of wealth generation for the people in power. Elected representatives are out to exploit the genuine needs of the people.

Garbage is at the lowest end, other basic public needs like drinking water, education and health have all turned into big business. The corporation schools are in shambles, the government hospitals in disarray with contaminated water to drink for the masses. A few have been allowed to make tons of money. The gap between the have and have-nots continues to swell. ZAB’s vision of ‘Roti, Kapra aur Makan’ for the common man is nowhere to be seen. While work on Metro Bus and Orange Line is done at full throttle, the ‘Ashiana Housing Scheme’ is moving at a snails pace as there is no incentive to line pockets of the powerful in the project for the poor.

The only visible light at the end of the dark tunnel is the next election in 2018. If conducted fairly the ‘garbage dealers’ will lose their hold on the levers of authority. Takht-e-Lahore controls every function of the city including garbage; it is time to challenge its hegemony returning the power to the masses so that they can run the place as it used to be before the rogues took control. The glory of the two cities (Lahore, Karachi) can be restored by independently elected and managed city governments.