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July 1, 2020

Gutter Baghicha land to be converted into park, says commissioner

Karachi

July 1, 2020

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani has announced that the Sindh government will construct a park on Gutter Baghicha land in the city’s District West.

The commissioner in his visit to the site on Tuesday said they would implement the orders of the Supreme Court regarding the Gutter Baghicha in its true spirit and would never permit to change the nature of the Gutter Baghicha’s land. Nor, he said, the government would allow any residential scheme to be constructed over the area. He directed the additional deputy commissioner of District West, Hasham Mazhar Qureshi, to keep an eye on the land of the Gutter Baghicha to protect it from unlawful constructions.

Brief history

Located in Site Town along Manghopir Road, the most densely populated part of Karachi, the Gutter Baghicha is a public amenity space. What is left of this Baghicha is approximately 480 acres.

Its appellation of 'gutter' originated from storm drainage channels of the Lyari River known as the Shone Drainage System. Later, these channels also took the sewerage water, originating in the adjoining built-up areas, which was then used to grow cereals, green fodder and vegetables. It later came to be known as the Sewage Farm.

At the time of partition, the Baghicha was referred to as the largest urban forest in Karachi. Apart from the cultivated area, there were also large tracts of natural vegetation. Old inhabitants of the area speak of deer roaming freely and of an abundance of flora and fauna. It was a place of natural beauty, recreation, peace and quiet. Also, after partition, several films shooting used to take place here. Technically, it is still all government land, meant for public recreation.

Around a 113-year old Karachi Municipality Map of 1892 shows a plot number, K 28/108, currently known as the Gutter Baghicha, which was transferred to the Karachi Municipality, by the British Crown, free of charge, including its surrounding areas.

It became the largest green space in Asia, stretching over an area of 1016.76 acres and was larger than that of New York Grand Central Park. However, sooner it became prey to land grabbers operating under the umbrella of political parties of this city.

According to the documents shared by a non-governmental organisation, Shehri – Citizens for a Better Environment, on the land of the Gutter Baghicha, the Hasrat Mohani Colony – a katchi abadi – was established some 60 years back. Around the end of June 2009, a group of politically-patronised encroachers allegedly organised by then SITE Town Nazim of MQM, Izhar Ahmed Khan, invaded the northern part of the vacant 430 acres of the Gutter Baghicha and began constructing houses.

In a bid to regularise this katchi abadi settlement, around 50-per cent of the residents were to be displaced from the Hasrat Mohani Colony for which purpose the New Hasrat Mohani Colony was established adjacent to the Hasrat Mohani Colony. In view of the public pressure to save the park about a one-and-a-half month after the land-grabbing, a resolution number 544 on July 29, 2009, was passed by then City Council, under then Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal, providing plots to persons who had allegedly been displaced when the Hasrat Mohani Colony – one of the katchi abadis established on the Gutter Baghicha around the 1960s – was regularised in 1981/82.

However, the Sindh High Court on October 28, 2008, had already issued a status-quo order in Suit 1484/2008, applicable to all vacant areas of the Gutter Baghicha. On August 25, 2009, the Shehri filed a contempt of court application against Kamal and Khan for violating the status quo order of October 23, 2008 in Suit 1484/2008.

Gutter Baghicha Bachao Tehreek’s Nisar Baloch was shot dead on November 7, 2009, on Love Lane Bridge crossing at the Lyari River, one day after naming then Karachi mayor Mustafa Kamal and then SITE Town Nazim of MQM Izhar Ahmed Khan as sponsors of the encroachment.