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October 19, 2019

Anti-encroachment drive not targeting only poor, says commissioner


October 19, 2019

Discussions are being held with some Turkish companies to run a modern tram with World Bank’s support on II Chundrigar Road from Tower to the Shaheen Complex.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani said this on Friday as he spoke to a seminar, ‘The Future of Heritage’, organised by the Architecture Design Art (ADA) in collaboration with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture (AKTC) Education Programme at Aga Khan University Auditorium. The Jang group was the media partner for the event.

Speakers at the seminar highlighted the importance of conservation, restoration and adaptive reuse of historical sites for urban and communal rejuvenation and the expansion of urban public spaces in the dense urban fabric of Pakistan. They also discussed how a strategy could be devised to achieve these goals with the help of the Aga Khan Historic Cities Programme.

Shallwani said that it was on October 27, 2018, when the Empress Market was cleared of encroachments on the Supreme Court’s order. He informed the event that at that time only a few days had passed since he had taken over his charge and three of his predecessors had told him that they had always called off such an operation because of the fear of huge backlash that could result in bloodshed.

He told the seminar that at a meeting with shopkeepers, he had explained to them the reason behind cleaning the surroundings of the Empress Market where how shops had been built, allotted and run was not contributing anything to the formal economy.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) had given those shopkeepers a four-by-four-square-yard vendor permit on a small slip, so that they could keep a small table and sell their stuff, the commissioner said, adding that in a span of 45 years, those four-by-four square yards turned into eight-by-12 and later 12-by-20 with walls erected on either sides, after which came the illegal RCC roof under the KMC’s protection, followed by rooms built on the shops’ roofs.

“We did the survey and got the people out,” Shallwani remarked as he recalled how the operation was started that day at 7:30 am in the morning. Commenting on the animal market adjacent to the Empress Market, he said animals at the market were kept in a miserable state.

“A beautiful peacock with all his feathers was seen trapped in a small cage,” he explained, adding that all such shopkeepers later hired shops in Defense Housing Authority. The commissioner continued by telling the audience that some people termed the operation at the Empress Market an attempt by the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan’s (MQM-P) mayor to target people hailing from the northern areas of the country. As such an impression needed to be dispelled, Shallwani said he ordered a similar operation in the Gulshan-e-Iqbal and Nazimabad areas.

Countering the allegation that the anti-encroachment operation started on the SC’s order only targeted the poor, he said several marriage halls built on public parks were also demolished in the anti-encroachment drive.

A marriage hall on Aziz Bhatti Park was also demolished, which belonged to a very close friend of Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, he said. “The mayor didn’t order that operation. I did,” Shallwani asserted as he recalled that after the hall’s demolition, he got a call from the mayor who said the anti-encroachment operation was supposed to be carried out only at the Empress Market.

“I conveyed to him that the Supreme Court order was for the entire city.” There was also a big club in a park that was being run by one of his friends belonging to customs services, Shallwani said. “I have attended marriages of my batchmates, friends and colleagues there,” he said and added that he even got calls from Islamabad to deter him from having that club razed, but he ended up demolishing it. “It wasn’t a balancing act, but an action to get rid of the notion that one community was being targeted.”

A lot of influential people were affected by the anti-encroachment drive that was initiated to comply with the SC’s order, he said, adding that the order pertained to retrieval of public properties such as parks, waterways and nullahs from encroachers and it also carried directions against the commercialisation of public properties.

Addressing a session, which was titled ‘Local challenges on conservation and adaptive reuse – Sindh as a case study’, former Karachi administrator Fahim Zaman shared how since 1838 the city developed as a seaport and cantonment to serve colonial needs of the British Empire.

“While the glorious heritage buildings we see in Karachi may not be more than 170 years old, the city itself is much older,” he said, mentioning that even Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai used to pass through Karachi while travelling. “He [Bhittai] used to camp on a hill in Deh Langeji which is close to Kathore,” the former administrator quoted some locals as saying that, but added that there were hardly any historical documents to prove this claim of the locals.

Sharing some interesting historical facts, Zaman said Engineer Walker was one of the eminent urban planners in those days. He added that the Bombay Presidency once branded Walker as a frivolous and spendthrift person for having built too wide a road in 1915, which was then known as Bunder Road and is now called MA Jinnah Road.

In the same session, urban planner Arif Hassan spoke on the formal and informal economy of the city. Citing a study under the Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020, he said 40 per cent of the city’s economy was informal and it provided 72 per cent of the total employment in Karachi. In the surroundings of the Empress Market, he said, there was a tea market which linked Karachi with Kenya and Bangladesh and a bird market, which connected the city to South Africa.