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October 16, 2020

Boat rally rejects federal govt’s plan to build city on twin islands


October 16, 2020

A large number of fishermen, and civil society and political leaders on Thursday took part in a boat rally to show their disapproval of the federal government’s plan for the construction of a city on the twin islands of Dingi and Bhundar, and to demand a reversal of the presidential ordinance for the formation of the Pakistan Islands Development Authority.

The Samoondi Bait Bachayo Tehreek (Save Sea Islands Movement), an alliance of civil society groups, including 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, organised the rally of 25 boats from Ibrahim Hyderi to the twin Islands.

Hundreds of people, including political and social activists, writers, journalists, lawyers and fishermen, took part in the rally mainly hosted by the PFF.

Muhammad Ali Shah, PFF chairman and the movement’s convener, said the federal government’s decision to constitute PIDA was unconstitutional and it was against the provincial sovereignty.

He said it was also decided to construct the city on the twin islands of Bhundar (Bundal) and Dingi without any consultation with the Sindh government despite the fact that the area fell under the provincial jurisdiction.

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 would come to an end along with their pathways, Shah said. “The development of islands and the construction of any city would also harm the environment while the livelihoods of 800,000 fishermen would come to an end and they would face extreme poverty.”

Other speakers, including Dr Qadir Magsi, Zain Shah, Abdul Khaliq Junejo, Illahi Bux Bikak, former Town Nazim Khuda Dino Shah and historian Gul Hassan Kalmati, also said the presidential ordinance regarding the islands was against the constitution of Pakistan, and it should be reversed immediately. They said the islands were the property of the fishermen and nobody would be allowed to construct a city over there.

They demanded of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s Sindh government to reject the occupation of the islands in the parliament. Pakistan Peoples Party lawmakers from Malir Jam Abdul Karim, Raja Abdul Razzaq and Mahmood Alam Jamot also participated in the rally.

Meanwhile, the maritime security force reportedly stopped the rally from going to the Dingi Island. Later, the rally was moved to the Bhundar Island, where participants could not visit the island because of low tides. The leaders addressed the rally from a boat.

Governor’s take

Sindh Governor Imran Ismail has said the federal government will not make any progress on its plan to develop the islands off Karachi’s coast without completely addressing all the reservations of the provincial government in this connection.

Speaking at a press conference at the Governor House on Thursday, he said Prime Minister Imran Khan had the resolve to build a new city in the province (on the islands).

“In this regard, each and every reservation of the provincial government will be removed, and I, on behalf of prime minister, want to assure that we will not do any activity on these islandsbefore the removal of these reservations,” said the governor.

“We have the desire to work together as I’m ready to go to meet anyone to hold discussion on their reservations whether it is concerning the presidential ordinance, environmental issues, or employment opportunities for the local people,” he said while talking about the opposition of the Sindh government to the federal government’s plan to develop the islands.

Ismail said that due precautions would be taken to conserve the heritage, marine life and wildlife of the Bundal Island.

He claimed that the Bundal Island would be developed as the first green island city, as all its aspects after the development would be environment-friendly. He said proper trash disposal and waste water treatment systems would be built for the new city project for due conservation of the mangrove forests there.

The governor said income generated from the Bundal Island project would be used to do more investment in Sindh for the cause of development. He said similar models of island development in Malaysia, Sri Lanka and China were being studied for the upcoming city project off Karachi’s coast.

He noted that the total area of Bundal Island was 8,000 acres as the project on the island was expected to attract $50 billion investments. He said Sindh would be the ultimate beneficiary of this massive development as around 150,000 local people belonging to different fields would get employment opportunities.

Ismail said the PM had the firm commitment to the cause of environment and he would never take any step which would degenerate the environment. He said the island would be developed to increase foreign exchange reserves of the country. He said the Bundal Island was and would remain a part of the Sindh province even after development of the city project.

To a question, the governor said negotiations could be held in case the Sindh government, environmental and civil society activists had objections to certain clauses of the ordinance for establishing the PIDA.