The Federal Cabinet’s meeting today will include a discussion on the amendment of the Islamabad master plan to make way for finalising the construction of the Islamabad prison. Conceived in 2011 with work beginning last year, the Islamabad Model Prison is being built on lands formerly owned by the Capital Development Authority and formed part of the forest cover allotted for the city and surrounding areas. As with many government plans in the past, this project violates the master plan for the capital yet was started anyway with the hopes of it being completed or too far into it before someone pointed out the obvious encroachment.

The plan to build a prison for Islamabad given its status as the federal capital makes sense jurisdictionally, and the Supreme Court’s (under former Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry) order to do so makes perfect sense legally. However, the specifics of where the prison was constructed is another legal matter that needed closer scrutiny; the master plan of Islamabad included quality standards of living as a goal during its inception, alongside making a city to handle all bureaucratic matters of the state. Its parks, greenbelts, forests and other areas where urbanisation is not permitted form an integral tree cover that protects the city and its citizens. Projects motivated by political pressure or used as a means to increase the support base should not be completed at the expense of flouting rules and regulations, the government needs to look after the best interests of the city, and the master plan does just that.

This habit of starting work on a project with the utmost haste and then seeking regularisations from the judiciary or the next government, pointing out the obvious sunk costs if left incomplete is a tactic used by governments in a bid to get away with doing what they want, disregarding environmental or economic feasibility studies. Grand projects such as the Islamabad Model Prison or the Orange Line Metro Train are not bad plans in theory; if executed properly with urban planning as the central focus, keeping all technicalities in mind, they can provide lasting benefit to the cities they are constructed in. However, the government cannot bulldoze its way through to completing projects that might create new problems while solving old ones. There must be an end to this practice – it is hoped that PTI is not cut from the same cloth in this matter and does not follow its predecessors in allowing for this regularisation now. Steps must be taken to ensure that this comes to an end, even if it comes at the cost of a prison.