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October 4, 2020

Political parties, CSOs to oppose federal govt’s ordinance to form PIDA


October 4, 2020

A day after the Federal Ministry for Maritime Affairs advertised the post of chairman of the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA), leaders of various political parties and civil society groups at a consultation on Saturday announced resistance to an ordinance to constitute the body aimed at developing barren islands in the territorial waters of the country,

The Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum, the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research (Piler), the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Indigenous Rights Alliance and the Aurat Foundation jointly organised the consultation, where a five-member coordination committee was formed under the chair of PFF chairperson Muhammad Ali Shah to devise a strategy for a campaign against the formation of the PIDA and construction of a city on the twin islands of Bhundar (Bundal) and Dingi.

Highlighting the issue, PFF chairman Shah said the federal government had decided to constitute the PIDA and construct the city on the twin islands without any consultation with the Sindh government despite the fact that areas 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,” Shah said.

“The construction of the city and so-called development of islands would deprive around 800,000 fishermen of their livelihood and they would suffer extreme poverty,” he said.

Pakistan has a coastal belt of over 1,050 kilometres and there are 300 small and big islands located off the Sindh coastal belt that would be taken into control by the federal government.

He said the former government of General 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 government had also tried to develop the islands through a property tycoon, but the Supreme Court banned the construction.

“It is a fact that Sindh’s islands are the property of the people of Sindh, where fishermen have the customary rights over them while the provincial government is the custodian of the land and forests. According to the Constitution of Pakistan, 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 the property of the people of Sindh and Balochistan.”

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.

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

HRCP honorary spokesperson IA Rehman said that the islands were the property of the people. “You cannot take them without their consultation,” he said, adding that any takeover of the islands would be against the country.

He said mangroves and fishermen were assets to the country, which should be protected, and it was the responsibility of the provincial government to save its islands.

PPP Senator Dr Karim Khuwaja said the islands were the provincial property, but no NOC had been taken from the government of Sindh. “We are against the construction of the city over the islands,” he said. “These mangroves save us from tsunamis and cyclones.”

He said the PPP legislators would take up the issue in the parliament.

Piler’s Executive Director Karamat Ali said the project of constructing the city was not against the fishermen only, as it was also against all the people of the province and the environment. “It was against political, social and environmental rights,” he said.

Sindh United Party head Jalal Mehmood Shah, Jeay Sindh Mahaz’s Abdul Khaliq Junejo and other politicians as well as civil society activists addressed the meeting.