The Supreme Court (SC) on Thursday asked the affected families of the Gujjar and Orangi Nullah anti-encroachment drives to consider two new proposals of the Sindh government with regard to their rehabilitation.
The Sindh government has offered the heads of 6,932 families affected by the anti-encroachment drives to either receive an amount for the purchase of land and cost of construction as per the market value of land from where they were dispossessed or accept a 80-square-yard plot from the Malir Development Authority along with the cost of construction in accordance with standards set out by the engineering council.
A two-member bench comprising Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar and Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi directed the Sindh government to release outstanding rental support payment to the unpaid affectees within a month.
A non-governmental organisation and the affected people of the anti-encroachment drive had moved the apex court against the provincial government’s failure to comply with the court order to suitably compensate and rehabilitate the people whose houses had been razed during an operation to remove encroachments along the two drains.
They filed a contempt-of-court application against outgoing Sindh Chief Minister Shah Syed Murad Ali Shah submitting that the SC had clearly directed the provincial government to rehabilitate and compensate the affected people within two years. Their counsel Faisal Siddiqui said the CM had undertaken before the apex court that a scheme titled ‘Resettlement of Affectees of Gujjar, Mehmoodabad and Orangi Nullah’ would be executed by the government at an estimated cost of Rs10 billion and the project would be completed in all respects within a maximum period of two years.
He submitted that none of the directions of the court had been complied with by the alleged contemnor despite the almost lapse of the time allowed by the SC. He said the government did not disburse the promised amount of Rs15,000 per month per household for two years. He said the amount was to be disbursed in four instalments that were to be paid after every six months, but till date, only two instalments had been disbursed.
The lawyer said the Sindh government had also allocated funds for the rehabilitation of the affected people and the same should be released for the purpose.
On his last day as the CM, Shah appeared in person before the SC to respond to the contempt-of-court application. He informed the court that the federal government had earlier agreed to construct houses under the Naya Pakistan scheme but it withdrew from its commitment during the last year.
He said that Sindh had also faced devastating floods in September 2022 and had to borrow Rs66 billion for relief activities in the flood-affected areas.
He said that allocation of funds for the affected persons of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs could not be endorsed by the provincial cabinet which was a necessary requirement as per the Supreme Court directives in Mustafa Impex case.
He conceded that he could not understand the order of the court with regard to his undertaking for rehabilitation of the affected families.
The bench observed that the Supreme Court order was binding upon the Sindh government and Mustafa Impex case did not come in the way of implementing the court order.
The apex court observed that if the chief minister had reservations about the court order, the provincial government may have filed a review application.
The CM and Karachi mayor also expressed regret for not filing a progress report on the matter. Before initiating contempt proceedings, the apex court asked the CM, mayor and other Sindh government officials whether they were serious about implementing the court orders for compensation and rehabilitation of the affected persons.
Shah and other government functionaries, including the chief secretary and mayor, showed their willingness to resolve the matter and offered proposals to settle the matter in the best interests of the affected persons.
The Supreme Court observed that the affected persons were citizens of Karachi and should be rehabilitated. The bench directed the Sindh government to prepare cheques of the outstanding rental amount to the unpaid affected families of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs within seven days and these people may collect those cheques within one month.
The SC ordered that the cheques shall be delivered to the affected families from the office of the South deputy commissioner under the supervision of the Commissioner Office.
The apex court observed that in case of non-payment of cheques, the affected persons may file a complaint before the additional commissioner who would resolve their issue.
The bench directed the counsel for the affected persons to seek instructions from their clients with regard to the offer of the provincial government with regard to their rehabilitation and submit their response on the next hearing.
The Sindh government was also directed to publish a public notice in newspapers telling the affected persons to collect their cheques and consider the proposals for their rehabilitation.
The apex court made it clear that the order was without prejudice to the contempt application filed by the applicants against the chief minister and it would remain intact and pending for further proceedings if the matter was not resolved in view of the proposals and undertaking presented before the court.
The CM assured the SC that he would ensure proper allocation of funds for releasing compensation for rental support to the affected persons before leaving his office of the CM and would issue necessary instructions for due compliance of the court order to all the concerned.
The bench also dispensed with personal appearance of the CM till further orders and directed the Sindh government to file an interim report with regard to issuance of cheques to the affected persons by September 11.
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