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Sunday March 03, 2024

Families affected by anti-encroachment drive demand rehabilitation

July 10, 2023

Razia Bibi, 50, a resident of the Gujjar Nullah area, was already hardly able to make ends meet when her home was demolished for the project to revamp and restore the Gujjar, Orangi and Mehmoodabad storm water drains.

The project’s proponent is the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA). The demolitions started taking place after the massive rainfall of 2020 that caused the drains to overflow. The settlements along the banks of these nullahs were razed without offering any compensation to the residents.

Razia used to live in a three-room house along the bank of the Gujjar Nullah. Her three sons, three daughters and a few grandchildren also lived with her. “Now we live in separate houses,” she said, adding that each family pays Rs10,000 as rent. Razia lives with one of her sons, while the others live separately.

She is not the only one. Almost all the families who used to live along the bank of the Gujjar Nullah — where the government now plans to construct a 30-feet-wide road on both sides of the drain — have been scattered.

Hameeda Begum is a resident of Kausar Niazi Colony. She used to have a two-floor, 16-bedroom house near the Gujjar Nullah that has been razed. Her two married sons live separately, while she lives with her ailing son in a makeshift space where her house used to be.

“Our family has been scattered. We can’t watch our grandchildren grow,” Hameeda said, adding that her sons pay Rs30,000 as rent. Had this money been coming to the family, their lives would not have been so miserable, she pointed out.

The Karachi Bachao Tehreek (KBT), and the affected families of the Gujjar and Orangi Nullah areas, Mujahid Colony, the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) area and other demolition-affected families held a protest rally outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday to demand that the government address their grievances.

The KBT presented four key demands to ensure justice for and proper rehabilitation of the affected families. The first demand is that the government immediately rehabilitate the affected residents of the Gujjar Nullah, Orangi Nullah and KCR areas, and Mujahid Colony.

They also demanded that the government establish an independent commission, which is led by an upright judge or bureaucrat and includes the affected residents, to oversee the rehabilitation process, ensuring transparency, fairness and the active participation of those affected.

Their next demand is that the affected residents of the Gujjar Nullah, Orangi Nullah and KCR areas be resettled in their own districts, preserving their social connections, employment opportunities and children’s education.

Similarly, they added, the Mujahid Colony-affected residents should be given the opportunity to rebuild their homes on the same land from which they were “unjustly” evicted.

Their fourth demand is that the government immediately issue the pending third and fourth rent cheques to the affected residents. Moreover, they said, compensation should be provided to those affected by the lack of safety measures during construction work at the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs.

Fizza Qureshi, a KBT leader, said that in 2021 the Supreme Court had ruled that within two years all the affected residents should be provided alternative homes within the city, equipped with basic amenities like water, electricity, schools, playgrounds and other necessities of life, along with preserving their livelihoods.

However, she said, the authorities blatantly disregarded these orders, forcibly displacing people when the court had specifically ordered their resettlement. The ruling elite have simply ignored the court’s directives, which were meant to provide a dignified life for the affected residents, she added.

Laila Raza of the Awami Workers Party emphasised that one should not expect any justice from the government and its institutions. She said that it is imperative to establish an independent commission that includes the affected residents.

This commission would ensure that no injustice is done to the affected residents, and that their concerns are addressed without falling victim to corruption, she added. “Democracy does not merely mean casting a vote every five years. It also includes incorporating people into the decision-making processes that shape their future.”

Nisar Ahmed, leader of the Gujjar Nullah-affected residents, urged the government to provide the affected families with alternative homes in their respective localities. He said that their employment, children’s education and social connections are deeply rooted in their own neighbourhoods. Ahmed said that when the government resettles the affected residents in other areas, it creates a clash of interests with the communities already living in those localities.

He also expressed concerns over the government’s apparent collusion with the builder mafia that aims to benefit from the demolition and reconstruction of these lands, leaving the poor homeless.

Arsalan Anjum, leader of the Orangi Nullah-affected residents, criticised the Sindh government, particularly Karachi Mayor and former city administrator Barrister Murtaza Wahab, for not making any effort to meet with any of the affected residents.

Anjum said that several attempts were made to get in touch with them, but they remained uninterested in meeting the affected residents. He said the government issued two cheques for rent, which were difficult to cash, but not all the affected residents were able to receive compensation.

The third and fourth cheques have been pending for a long time, he added. “This behaviour of our ruling authorities expose their callousness towards those who do not have a roof over their heads in the face of rising inflation.”

Nasir Hussain, head of the Mujahid Colony-affected residents, said that around the Liaquat University Hospital, thousands of houses were demolished in the name of KCR, Gujjar Nullah and widening of roads, while the hospital itself, situated on disputed land, remained untouched.

Hussain said that their demand is that the houses in Mujahid Colony that were unlawfully demolished despite pending court cases be reconstructed on their rightful land.

Moreover, he said, those responsible for the faulty construction that resulted in the loss of lives due to collapsed walls and inadequate safety measures should be held accountable and punished severely. In the meantime, the affected residents of Mujahid Colony should receive their due rent cheques until they are resettled, he added.

The affected residents also highlighted the severe disruption of sewage and water lines in these areas due to haphazard construction work, causing immense difficulties for the locals.

They demanded that the construction companies working on the Gujjar and Orangi drains, as well as the Karachi Water & Sewerage Board, take immediate note of these issues and resolve them without further delay.

The KBT and the affected residents said they would continue their political and legal struggle until each affected individual is rightfully compensated. If their “just” demands are not met, they would record their protest in the “strongest possible terms”.