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June 24, 2019

Families rendered homeless by KCR operation await tents promised by govt

Karachi

June 24, 2019

A tattered teddy bear stares from behind the rubble of houses in Quaid-e-Azam Colony in Karachi’s District Central. A pair of tiny green shoes, a small pink cycle and some clothes lie next to it. Some water cans, a small birdcage and a worn-out wooden cupboard are at the broken entrance of a building.

Wearing an orange dress, gold earrings and a nose pin, Hafeeza Begum sits on bricks under a neem tree and stares the teddy bear with a sombre look. She is oblivious to what is happening around her.

Her son Shahid comes with hot Roti and Salan from a nearby kiosk. Begum covers her head with her orange Dupatta and brings two plates. The woman and her son eat their lunch under the open sky.

No tents so far

It has been more than a month the affected people of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project in Quaid-e-Azam Colony are forced to live in the open after their houses were demolished by the Pakistan Railways and the district administration of the port city under an anti-encroachment operation on the directives of the Supreme Court.

On May 9 this year, the apex court gave 15 days’ time to the Pakistan Railways to remove encroachments from the KCR’s right of way and hand it over to the Sindh government to start its operations in another 15 days. Soon after the SC order, a major portion of the KCR’s track in the Central and East districts was cleared of the encroachments and illegal structures, which included houses where people had been living.

Later on June 9, the Sindh government promised the people who had been rendered homeless that it would arrange makeshift tents and mobile toilets for them but like many of the government’s promises, it was not fulfilled.

“[It is] most important that they [affected people] should be given tents and mobile toilets for which the Provincial Disaster Management Authority (PDMA) has been given directions by the chief minister,” Adviser to the Sindh Chief Minister on Information Barrister Murtaza Wahab said this two weeks back on June 9 while addressing a rally of the KCR’s affected people outside the Karachi Press Club.

However, when The News visited on Sunday the track of the KCR which had been cleared of encroachments, it found out that the Sindh government made the promise in haste without bothering to monitor the situation on ground as tents could not be set up on the KCR’s land, whereas, the affected families are not willing to be resettled somewhere else.

A widow’s appeal

Begum is a widow who raised her four daughters and a son on her own. She is now deprived of her home and spends the nights at the residences of her sons-in-law and the days under the neem tree adjacent to the remains of her house.

Her son has constructed a small roofless toilet which she uses during daytime to respond to the call of nature. “In this age when I need comfort and care, I am using a roofless toilet, living amid rubbles of my house,” she says and asks the government to at least fulfil the promise of providing them with makeshift tents and toilets.

Business interests

A member of the Joint Action Committee of the KCR’s affected people, Sagheer Ahmed, explained that they went to Deputy Commissioner (DC) Central Farhan Ghani for the installation of mobile toilets and tents. “He [DC] offered us to relocate on some ground in FC Area or some government school, where they will establish a small tent city for us,” he said. “This wasn’t possible for us.”

The people living in the area, he explained, have their jobs in the area. “Many of us are painters, cobblers or carpenters or are involved in other professions. People around the area approach us for work,” he said, adding that if they were relocated, they would lose all their sources of income.

Due to this reason, around hundreds of the KCR’s affected people are living under open skies. A major problem for them is of toilets. To address the issue, many people have retrieved their toilet equipment from the rubble of their houses and constructed makeshift toilets that are not connected with the sewerage system. “This could lead to disease in the area,” said Ahmed.

According to a survey conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (Jica) — which was involved in the KCR between 2009 and 2013 — 4,653 families resided along the track that were termed ‘project affected persons’, not encroachers, in the documents. Jica had agreed to initiate work on the KCR project on condition that the Sindh government first resettled the affected persons.

Ahmed wants the affected persons to be relocated as per the initial plan and in the meantime, he said, the government should construct a tent city on the KCR’s land.

Deadlock

There seems to be a deadlock between the district administration and the affected families of the KCR.

Speaking to The News, Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani said the respective DCs had been tasked with arranging makeshift tents and toilets for the families. He, however, said it would not be possible to arrange such facilities near the KCR track as doing that would be a violation of the SC order.

Meanwhile, the Central DC explained that the issue of establishing a tent city was not that simple. “We offered to relocate them in schools or grounds, but they want to stay on the KCR’s land, until they’re relocated as per Jica’s plan,” he said, adding that it will not be possible for the government to accept their demands. “We can’t establish a tent city on the KCR’s land. If we do that, what will be the point of the entire anti-encroachment operation?” he asked.

According to Ghani, the district administration was in coordination with the affected families. “We’ve allowed them to restore their washrooms partially, but definitely we cannot allow them to restore their houses again,” he said.

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