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January 14, 2019

Civil society demands end to anti-encroachment operation


January 14, 2019

To express solidarity with the residents of low-income neighbourhoods and shopkeepers who were displaced or affected in other ways during the anti-encroachment drive under way across Karachi, civil society organisations (CSOs) and rights activists staged a day-long hunger strike outside the press club on Sunday.

The protest camp was organised by the Joint Action Committee, a Karachi-based alliance of different CSOs, along with concerned individuals and rights organisations. They demanded that the government immediately stop the campaign and implement a fair compensation and rehabilitation plan for the affected people.

The civil society activists expressed their concerns regarding the human aspect of the ongoing anti-encroachment drive, saying that thousands of shops have been bulldozed by the authorities in different areas but no compensation or alternative lands in most of the cases have been provided to the affected people.

Veteran urban planner and architect Arif Hasan said the unplanned operation has rendered hundreds of thousands of workers jobless, and the government has no plan to provide any relief to these people.

He said the affected people must be provided alternative employment opportunities and shelters. He suggested that the people should be directly consulted for this purpose. Renowned economist Dr Kaiser Bengali claimed that the present government is anti-poor, and that if the poor are not fighting for their rights, they will not get their rights. He said that due to neo-liberal economic policies, the poor are suffering and the rich are flourishing.

The protesters claimed that a large number of traders and shopkeepers have been forcefully evicted without any prior notices or alternative plans. They also claimed that some of the shops could not even be categorised as encroachments, but they were demolished as part of “land grabbing”. They said that the forced evictions have had multiple implications on the lives of the poor communities.

Activist Jibran Nasir demanded that the Supreme Court constitute an independent commission to look into the matter on humanitarian grounds and provide compensation to the affected people. “We don’t have confidence in this government, as its decisions are seldom implemented.”

The Urban Resource Centre’s Zahid Farooq said the civil society and urban rights organisations had held several meetings with the affected shopkeepers of different old markets and the residents of the affected neighbourhoods to devise a strategy to pressure the government into compensating and rehabilitating the traders.

“Today’s hunger strike is part of that strategy,” Farooq told The News. He said that protecting the people’s fundamental right to a livelihood must always take priority in urban planning.

The protesters demanded that the government immediately stop the anti-encroachment campaign and “apologise to the affected people for destroying their sources of livelihoods”. They also demanded implementation of a fair compensation and rehabilitation plan after forming a committee comprising the affected people and “pro-people individuals”.

Besides a large number of the affected people belonging to different lower-income areas and the demolished markets, the protest was also attended by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan’s Uzma Noorani, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education & Research’s Karamat Ali, social activist Naghma Shaikh, researcher Iffat Ara, the National Trade Union Federation’s Nasir Mansoor and academic Dr Riaz Shaikh.

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