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December 8, 2018

Civil society demands halt to anti-encroachment drive

National

December 8, 2018

KARACHI: After holding consultations with residents of low-income neighbourhoods and shopkeepers who were displaced or affected in other ways in the ongoing anti-encroachment drive in the city, civil society organisations and rights activists have demanded that the government stop the drive, tender an apology to the affected people for destroying sources of their livelihoods and implement a fair compensation and rehabilitation plan after forming a committee comprising affected people and pro-people individuals.

The civil society organisations made the demands during a joint press conference held on Friday at the Karachi Press Club. The press conference was organised by the Urban Resource Centre (URC) in collaboration with the Joint Action Committee, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), Karachi Urban Lab, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, National Commission for Human Rights (NCHR) and Aurat Foundation.

Expressing severe concern over the anti-encroachment drive, speakers at the press conference lamented that the government completely ignored the human aspect while carrying out the drive. Prominent urban planner Arif Hasan said the government was not disclosing its plans regarding the areas cleared in the massive anti-encroachment drive. He demanded that the government fully disclose what it intended to do with areas like Empress Market where encroachments had been removed. “We demand that the government tell us the actual objective of this operation.”

“Thirty to 40 per cent of the city’s economy is informal and without it, the city could not run its affairs,” Hasan said, adding that the informal economy provided employment to around two million people in the city, including hawkers and small shopkeepers who were deprived of their livelihoods because of the drive.

Throwing light on factors that had caused encroachments to emerge over the years, Hasan said consecutive governments in the past failed to carry out any urban planning for the city and equally failed to provide basic facilities, especially housing, to the people. It was because of the failure of governments that hawkers, instead of shopkeepers, and Katchi Abadis, instead of formal settlements, emerged across the city, he maintained. Hasan went on to say that the anti-encroachment drive had been carried out illegally as many shops that were demolished had been on lease and the traders who were using them had legal documents. Anis Haroon, who was representing the NCHR, said the ongoing drive was the biggest demolition drive in the city. Criticising the federal government, she said instead of fulfilling its promise to provide jobs to 10 million people and build five million houses, the government had snatched existing jobs and houses from people. Zulfiqar Shah of Piler discussed various implications of the anti-encroachment drive for the poor communities. He decried demolition of a large number of shops that did not fall in the category of encroachments, alleging that they were razed in order to grab their land.

Abira Ashfaq, rights activist and lawyer, commented on legal rights of hawkers and shopkeepers, saying that in countries such as India and Cambodia, their rights were protected and regularised. “It is a right of any hawker to continue running his or her business on a place if the business has been there for the last 20 to 25 years,” she said. A representative of traders of Lighthouse market, Hakeem Shah; a representative of Hindu women hawkers selling dry fruits outside Empress Market, Nachmi; and one of the affected shopkeepers of Empress Market, Ibrahim, also spoke at the press conference. The civil society organisations have been raising the issue of displaced shopkeepers and citizens on multiple fronts. Earlier this week, the URC and HRCP held separate meetings with affected traders and residents of Katchi Abadis to discuss the fallout of the drive. According to statistics compiled by the URC from newspaper reports, 2,200 shops have been demolished in the Empress Market during the ongoing anti-encroachment drive while 450 shops have been demolished in the Lighthouse market. As many as 350 shops have been levelled in the Aram Bagh Furniture Market while 800 shops on Burnes Road, 1,000 stalls in Shah Faisal Colony No 1, 20 shops in Liaquatabad Supermarket, 480 shops on Sohrab Katrak Road, 450 shops on Shahrah-e-Iraq and 450 shops in the Sohrab Goth area have also been razed among others.

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