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September 16, 2020

Rights activists criticise federal govt’s plan to build new city on twin islands off Karachi’s coast

Karachi

September 16, 2020

Opposing the federal government’s plan to construct a new city on twin islands off Karachi’s coast, representatives of civil society organisations on Tuesday expressed the fear that the plan would affect the local people and deprive hundreds of thousands of fishermen of their livelihood.

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum chairman Muhammad Ali Shah, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan vice-chairman Asad Iqbal Butt, and Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research’s executive director Karamat Ali, along with other noted civil society activists, voiced their concerns at a press conference at Karachi Press Club over the federal government’s proposal to create the Pakistan Islands Development Authority to develop the islands.

They said that there were around 300 small and big islands in Sindh’s coastal belt that were made by the River Indus with its silt over a long period. Instead of providing needed water in the Indus Delta, they said, islands made by the Indus River were being destroyed in the name of development and were being occupied illegally, which was actually destruction.

“Pakistan has a coastal belt of over 1,050 kilometres and all islands located in that belt would be taken into control by the federal government. A bill for the establishment of an authority is reportedly being prepared, which would be presented in the parliament for approval. But the major reason behind the establishment of this authority is to take control of the twin islands and construct a new city over them,” Shah said. Along with Dingi and Bundal, these islands are home to thousands of hectares of mangrove forests. These forests are nurseries of fish and shrimps while these creeks from Karachi to Thatta are fishing grounds for the fishermen, he said.

“With the construction of a new city, the fishermen’s fishing grounds will come to an end along with their pathways. The development of the islands and the construction of any city would also harm the environment,” PFF chief warned.

He said that with the construction of the city and so-called development of islands, around 800,000 fishermen would be deprived of their livelihood and they would suffer extreme poverty.

Rights activists also said that the government of Gen Pervez Musharraf had twice attempted in 2000 and 2006 to develop the twin islands, but the project could not be successful because of various reasons.

Later in 2013, the Pakistan People Party’s Sindh government had also tried to develop the islands through a known property tycoon, but the Supreme Court stopped the construction, they said.

They said the federal government had decided to construct the city on twin islands without any consultation with the Sindh government though the area fell under the provincial jurisdiction.

“The federal government’s action is not only against the Constitution of Pakistan but it is also against international conventions and agreements which provide social, economic and cultural sovereignty to the indigenous people,” said Shah.

It is a fact that Sindh’s islands are property of the people of Sindh, where fishermen have the traditional rights over them while the provincial government is the custodian of the land and forests, activists said.

According to the Constitution of Pakistan, the provinces have ownership of marine waters starting from the coast to 12 nautical miles and all these islands fall under provincial boundary. Thus, they are property of the Sindh and Balochistan governments, they added.