Even the inaugural Adab Festival was not spared by the discussion on the ongoing anti-encroachment drive in the city as the human and economic aspects of the drive were discussed at one of its first sessions.
The talk titled ‘Karachi: Encroachment and Demolitions’ held on the first day of the Adab Festival on Friday featured heavy debate on the questions: How does one define an ‘encroachment’? Is it morally justifiable to demolish encroachments which came up due to lack of planning by and with the collusion and consent of state authorities?
Faisal Siddiqi, a prominent lawyer, Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, Karachi Commissioner, Noman Ahmad, Dean Faculty of Architecture & Management Sciences at NED University, and Muhammad Toheed, a researcher associated with the Karachi Urban Lab at the Institute of Business Administration, were the key speakers, while Rumana Husain, an art critic and writer, moderated the session.
On October 27, 2018, the Supreme Court of Pakistan ordered that all encroachments be removed from Karachi within 15 days. Following this, the mayor, commissioner and others who had been so instructed, devised a plan and from November onwards heavy machinery has been deployed to clear encroachments, beginning from Saddar, including the historic Empress Market.
Lawyer Siddiqi said that Karachi has been experiencing a political vacuum and because of it, the anti-encroachment drive became a mess. “A political party that was representing and ruling the city though fascism and other means has been facing a crackdown and because of its absence, another party that is now ruling the city has nothing to do with the city’s affairs,” he said, without naming the Muttahida Quami Movement and the Pakistan Peoples Party.
He said that the apex court has been competing with the rights of laws, rights to housing, right to rehabilitate and implementing the laws without discrimination. “Now, one reason behind the mess is that the affectees of the anti-encroachment drive are not presented in the apex court and all the drive is going on without the knowledge of legal fraternity and feedback of government officials who are saving their skins.”
Commissioner Shallwani said he and other government officers were just following the orders of the apex court and all the key provincial and city authorities, and law enforcement agencies were involved in the drive. According to him, the authorities had divided into two categories – soft encroachment that consists of shops and commercial markets and hard encroachment that comprise human settlements. “It is very hard to run an anti-encroachment drive in the neighborhoods and we did not order to do it,” he said.
Highlighting the dire need for strategically planning the development of the city, Ahmed said that when Pervez Musharaf introduced the local government system and all departments came under the mayor, the Karachi Strategic Plan was made with proper consultation of experts, but after the passing of new Sindh Local Government Act, no one bothered to adopt the plans.
Ahmed said that privileged groups have always been benefiting from the government’s development plans that are mainly based on allocations of funds and land. “But a larger part of the city, which was deprived from development, set up its own neighborhoods where they found opportunities,” he said.
Urban planner Toheed said that without conducting proper surveys, the authorities started demolishing markets that have had multiple implications on the lives of poor communities.“Most of the shopkeepers had been forcibly evicted without any alternative plan and prior notice,” he said.
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