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January 22, 2020

Call for immediately stopping anti-encroachment drive

Karachi

January 22, 2020

Representatives of civil society, academia, trade unions, media and other professions held a press conference on Tuesday to voice concerns over large-scale demolitions of houses and businesses of residents of both the rural and urban populations across the province, resulting in unemployment and homelessness.

A total of 98 concerned citizens have also signed an open letter in this regard to all the political parties of Sindh. The signatories include Urban Resource Center Chairman Arif Hasan, Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research Executive Director Karamat Ali, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Sindh Vice Chairman Asad Iqbal Butt, former HRCP chairperson Zohra Yousuf, Sindh Human Rights Commission’s Justice (retd) Majida Rizvi, Shehri – Citizen for Better Environment General Secretary Amber Ali Bhai, Tehrik-e-Niswan’s Sheema Kermani, former finance adviser of Balochistan government Kaiser Bengali and NED University’s Dr Noman Ahmad.

Sameer Mandhro and Zia Ur Rehman were among the journalists who signed the open letter.

According to the letter, the gravity of the situation had also been recognised by Bilawal Bhutto Zardari, the chairman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP), which is currently the ruling party of Sindh.

The letter cited a tweet of Bilawal: “I have the mandate of the people of this province. I hold my head in shame that we have been unable to protect the poor and the helpless from this heartless so called anti-encroachment drive. What does it say about us that not even Edhi’s legacy is secure in Naya Pakistan.”

Those who are supposed to safeguard our rights and provide justice are unfortunately complicit in this atrocity, Bilawal further wrote in his tweet.

“I’ve demanded Sindh government pass legislation mandating relocation, rehabilitation, and compensation takes place BEFORE any eviction. Also to explore all legislative options … to protect Karachi’s poor & vulnerable, to protect Karachi’s cultural and historical heritage. Its living heritage. Will also be stepping up work with all stake holders on a feasible, practical, & progressive master plan for Sindh’s capital.”

More recently, the letter says, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah also recognised the seriousness of the situation in his statement reported by the media on January 12 in which he directed all the commissioners and deputy commissioners to halt demolitions of houses.

“The demolitions are being carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan and the High Court of Sindh. These orders entail the removal of ‘encroachments’ from watercourses, nullahs, pavements, and public spaces that prevent the flow of water, traffic, and pedestrian movement,” the letter reads.

The civil society groups blamed the problem of encroachments on the government’s failure to provide homes and livelihoods to its citizens as guaranteed by the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, as a result of which, Katchi Abadis, kiosks and push carts emerged out of necessity for the purposes of shelter, earning a livelihood, development of recreational and entertainment facilities.

The scale of the demolitions, the letter points out, is enormous. In the first phase of the demolitions, which started on November 5, 2018, more than 6,000 shops were demolished and over 7,000 hawkers lost their livelihoods, due to which the city was deprived of an economy which had a turnover of over Rs1.5 billion annually. In the second phase that started on February 9, 2019, the scale of demolitions has not been quantified but is much larger, the letter claims.

In addition to the above, 1,092 homes were demolished for the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project following the Supreme Court’s order to operate the railway within one month, which was an impossibility as the infrastructure conditions required at least a year to start the project.

The letter reads that the apex court had also directed the government departments to provide accommodation to the people affected by the anti-encroachment drives within one year. However, during the last 10 months, the letter claims, no action has been taken by the government and about 8,000 people continue to live in terrible conditions on the debris of their demolished homes without access to water, sanitation, and privacy.

The scale of rural demolitions at the canal banks and water courses is already in the tens of thousands and is bound to increase if the anti-eviction process continues, the letter reads. The result of the demolitions has been an increase in homelessness, unemployment, physical and mental stress, children not being able to attend school, suicides and far more importantly, further rich/poor division of the urban areas and an increased sense of deprivation in the rural areas.

The dispossessed population has no option but to establish their businesses and homes informally, once more, in Katchi Abadis or in areas where the courts have prohibited such constructions. As a result, we are increasing an already vulnerable nomadic Katchi Abadi population, the letter points out.

“What is of serious concern is also the fact that while the homes and businesses of low-income people are being demolished, the majority of illegal marriage halls in Karachi continue to function, housing on amenity plots has not been touched and nor have the businesses that were to be demolished in the cantonments on Supreme Court Orders or those constructed by the Sindh Government on the naalas of Karachi,” the letter reads and adds that such state of affairs gives the impression that this drive is selective in nature and is really an attempt by the affluent and the powerful to capture land from the lower income groups in Sindh’s capital city and other urban areas.

The letter demands that the Sindh government stop the anti-encroachment drive in the province. The PPP should fulfil the promises of its chairman Bilawal and chief minister, it reads.

The Sindh government with immediate effect should appoint people-friendly architects, planners and social scientists to undertake a spatial reorganisation of Karachi in a manner in which the informal markets and the hawkers and affectees of infrastructure development projects can be rehabilitated in a sustainable manner, the letter suggests.

Also, families being displaced from water banks and canal areas should be provided 60-square-yard plots on government land at locations near their sources of livelihood and they should be supported in building their homes through technical advice and managerial guidance by professional cells created for this purpose, the letter reads. It also calls for laws and policies to regulate and license hawking and informal markets, as has been done in many parts of the world.

The concerned civil society members say in the letter that for their proposals to be implemented, the political parties of Sindh should revisit their election manifestos in which they had proposed solutions for the housing needs of the people, so that a broad consensus regarding the issue can be achieved.