Benazir Shaheed Park needs care, not to be turned into a free Wi-Fi zone
KARACHI: The sun is setting behind the silhouettes of the tall cranes in the port as I look to the horizon standing in Benazir Shaheed Park. The water the park has circumscribed glistens as if saying good night to a darling it has a lasting bond with.
More than a score or so young men and women are walking on the two-way pathway made with solid plastic blocks to go a good distance into the water body. The throbbing water under the strip, which rises and falls as the water does, makes the walker elated.
A few children walk alongside their parents and play on the area paved with planks. I have not heard of a public place that provides joggers with such a facility.
There are families sitting on the grassy lawns. Some of them are in a well-planned picnic mode, with all the necessities for such an outing neatly placed on a bedspread.
When you enter the park you cannot help noticing a cold drink stall near either of the two entrances to the park.
A fruit seller is pushing his cart loaded with fresh fruits — apples, bananas, peaches, grapes, melons — on the paved area. A man carrying two kettles in both his hands shouts “chai”, “qehva”. There may also be a balloon vendor, and, mercifully, no beggars to accost you.
The park is Benazir, matchless, for many reasons. Many families enjoy themselves though they may counter unsightly views spoiling their mood too.
A trio with a motorcycle stands on a pavement smoking cigarettes and observing the families walking in to enjoy the park’s ambience and cool evening weather. Young women among the leisurely moving people might be feeling uneasy as some bikers also roar past them.
Three of the bikers even run on the greenery. A man annoyed by the scene, says angrily: “Who has allowed you to bring your two-wheelers inside?” One of them replies brusquely: “No one! There is no one to question people entering through the broken part of the boundary wall on bikes or on foot.”
Pieces of cement benches and other debris may be seen here and there. Garbage of every kind, empty juice packets, disposable soft drink empty bottles and polythene bags litter every nook and cranny of the park.
The jogging track paved with planks, which makes the park the only of its kind in Pakistan, is fast losing its distinction. Big chunks of the planks have gone missing or lie broken, making it impossible to walk on.
There seems no arrangement to remove the sea garbage piling along the fringes.
People walking in through the main gate are charged Rs20 per person. When asked on whose behalf they are collecting the fee, a young man who identifies himself as Sherdil hesitates a bit and then says: “On Raja Mansoor’s instructions.” When further asked who the raja is, the tiddler says: “He is a jaanisar (a person keen to die for a leader or cause).” Sherdil says he is not a regular employee and is just paid from Rs400 to Rs500 a day for his work.
Rehan, another young man, collecting parking fee on the roadside near the smaller gate, confirms that he is also doing so at Raja Mansoor’s behest. He gives a receipt on demand which reads: ‘Benazir Shaheed Park charged parking fees; S. No. 0000…; Date …..; Rs 30: Contractor’. The Urdu text absolves the administration from all responsibilities. ‘In case of theft, either of the vehicle or its parts, the parking administration will not be responsible. Owner should park on their own risk. Parking payment must be made in advance’.
Despite the lack of attention, the beautiful park still pulls in a good number of visitors, especially on weekends and holidays.
The Sindh government has earmarked Rs50 million in its 2017-18 budget to install free Wi-Fi service at the park.
Dr Sikandar Shoro, assistant to the chief minister on information technology, is very keen to have Wi-Fi installed in the park. He expects thousands of people to flock to the place to benefit from the facility.
His spirit deserves appreciation. But people coming there just for free Wi-Fi are bound to ruin the park and strip it of its status of a family park.
Dr Shoro may even allow the Wi-Fi funds to be spent on the maintenance of the park named after a great leader.