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June 12, 2019

Unfair evictions


June 12, 2019

With protests underway against the evictions to clear the path for the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), the question of why it is the poorest who have their houses and shops destroyed in the drive to ‘clean up’ the city must be raised again. It is clear that if the government was to implement the law of the land – whether it be the master plan or regulations to convert rural land into urban – it would have to start by demolishes the houses of the richest residents of Karachi. Most elite housing schemes do not conform with planning regulations, but none of them are targeted in anti-encroachment operations. In the case of the KCR, this is not the first round of evictions. Around 1,400 households were displaced from 28 neighborhoods along the KCR and resettled in North Nazimabad in 2008. Many of these households face displacement again. How is it fair that the government is ready to evict them once again a decade later after agreeing to move them to their new homes? In total, almost 60,000 residents around the KCR are in danger of eviction. These are not just those who live in informal settlements, but also include around 25,000 of those who live in seven government quarters.

Both planned and unplanned residential spaces are set to fall under the hammer of the so-called anti-encroachment operation. While the first round of demolitions has remained focus on ‘low-intensity’, word is that swift and decisive action may be coming, along the lines of what happened at Empress Market last year. The Empress Market shops are part of almost 11,000 shops and 20 markets that have been demolished in Karachi. One must wonder if this unheeded loss of livelihoods and homes itself corresponds to the law, especially when on the other hand, illegal elite housing scheme owners are able to get a clean chit.

If indeed the homes of the poor are ‘illegal,’ then why are they not offered the option of paying a fine in instalments? The law should be the same for the elite and the poor. If anything, it should be softer for the poor. Instead, the state and the law happily accept the transgressions of the rich, but treat those of the poor with contempt. The KCR demolitions, of course, are not just an issue of the poor. Both low- and middle-income households are set to be caught in the operations. Formal and informal housing colonies are all being brought under the label of ‘encroachers’ – and once their houses are demolished no one cares about what was true on paper anymore. While the state has a right, through the right channels, to claim land for public use, the ongoing anti-encroachment operations seem little to do with such a right.

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