Remembering Tasneem Siddiqui | Political economics


JSince the end of November last year, NED University in Karachi has organized the Akhtar Hameed Khan Conference on Social Development. Shoaib Sultan Khan was the keynote speaker. I was happy to see Tasneem Siddiqui sitting in the front row. Although I had seen him for a long time, he looked as good as ever. The Executive Committee of the Social Science Council (COSS) of Pakistan, of which I am the Chairman, had decided to invite him to deliver our annual Akhter Hameed Khan Memorial Lecture in Islamabad towards the end of February this year. His name had been proposed by Shoaib Sultan Khan. He gladly agreed, saying, “I hope your introduction won’t be longer than my lecture. It was a reference to my prolegomena on why we chose him.

While we were thinking of sending him an official invitation, news arrived from Karachi on January 29 that he had passed away. We’re told he was at his usual best even on his last day. Those who dedicate their lives to the service of the poor depart in peace. Thinking of him took me back in time. We had first met in Lahore at the Temple Road residence of Reza Ali, a development pioneer in his own right. I also recalled the numerous conversations with the provocative Feryal Gauhar. We also met in Islamabad whenever he was there.

Tasneem Siddiqui belonged to the now vanished class of civil servants who thought of the poor and lived for them. Like Shoaib Sultan Khan, he was inspired by the work of Akhter Hameed Khan when he visited Comilla Academy as a civil servant. Housing for the urban poor was not just a slogan for him. It was a passion fueled by interactions with Akhter Hameed Khan at the Orangi pilot project in Karachi. Hyderabad Khuda ki Basti is living proof of his mastery of the conceptualization and updating of HLM projects. The transition from a project to a program has taken him to greater heights in putting things on the ground by making the Sindh Katchi Abadis Authority a household name for the poor and homeless. His legacy includes Saibanorganization dedicated to action and research for shelter.

For him, housing for the urban poor was not just a slogan. It was a passion fueled by interactions with Akhter Hameed Khan at the Orangi pilot project in Karachi. Hyderabad’s Khuda ki Basti is living proof of his mastery of conceptualizing and actualizing low cost housing projects.

He once lamented, “There is little doubt that neither the state nor the private sector is interested in solving the housing problem of the urban poor and low-income people. This means that the informal sector will continue to be the main provider of plots for them (albeit illegally) and the state will continue to regularize the kachi abadis which continue to proliferate. He went on to ask, “First, is this the solution to the problem, and second, what would be the living conditions in kachi abadis (even in low-income planned areas) when population densities increase further and already insufficient infrastructure collapses? »

His other lament was the absence of a national urban policy which “resulted in urbanization that was unplanned and unregulated, and resulted in myriad challenges like inadequate and deficient infrastructure, acute housing shortages, congestion , ecological degradation, poverty and unemployment”.

Sometimes Tasneem Siddiqui wrote his thoughts on broader development issues. Since Bangladesh’s GDP growth has outpaced Pakistan’s, there have been various explanations for how this happened. His was innovative. He called it a “development surprise”. Focusing on the growth story, the fact that Bangladesh has achieved a high level of social development despite everything has been lost in quantitative quibbles. As he put it, “its progress in social outcomes reflects neither economic growth nor public expenditure-led development.” It was “rather by mobilizing resources at the grassroots level: micro-funding and active support of a committed and engaged civil society and intelligentsia”. In other words, it was the result of scaling the Akhter Hameed Khan-Shoaib Sultan Khan model. In Pakistan, however, we confine them to pilot projects.

Rest in peace, Tasneem Siddiqui. You have lived a life worth emulating.

The author is a Senior Political Economist and Chairman of Council for Social Science (COSS), Pakistan

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