Tuesday January 25, 2022

‘Unbridled high-rises to turn city into graveyard’: Gangs, mafias operating in Karachi under official patronage, says SC

December 30, 2020

KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that gangs and land grabbing mafias were operating in the city with the support of government officials besides the Sindh Building Control Authority’s unauthorized permission for scores of high-rise buildings will subsequently turn the city into a graveyard.

Hearing the petitions against illegal encroachments on public parks and amenity lands in Karachi, the SC’s three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, directed the chief minster Sindh to submit about the steps being taken for remedying the state of affairs in Karachi.

At the outset of the proceedings, the chief justice inquired from the additional advocate general about the compliance of SC directions given to the CM Sindh to correct the state of affairs of Karachi as there was a total collapse of civic agencies in Karachi. The additional advocate general, Sindh, submitted that secretaries of concerned departments have filed their respective reports. At that, the court took an exception over non-filing of comments by the CM and directed the law officer to ask the CM to appear before the court and explain what action has been taken to comply with the orders of the court. The bench observed that the CM was specifically ordered to take proper action for improving Karachi after observing that none of the civic agencies seem to be working or even interested in working. They observed that additional advocate general was unable to reply to the court queries about compliance of its May 9, 2019 order.

Following this, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah appeared on court notice and tendered an apology for not complying with the directives of the court and said a number of actions were taken in compliance. The CM told the court that he held meetings with civic agencies but could not submit the sought-after report. The CM sought two weeks’ time to submit the compliance report.

He, however, differed with the statement of former Mayor Karachi Waseem Akhtar that KMC was not given powers under the Local Government Act. He said the Sindh government constructed the University Road, Tariq Road and restored water and sewerage lines besides initiating Rs.26 billion Malir Expressway project to address traffic congestion. The court inquired what steps were being taken for the poor masses as there was no proper infrastructure in the city. The court granted a month to the CM Sindh to submit compliance.

The court also inquired from the Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah about granting an approval to multistorey buildings in residential areas where only ground plus 1 or 2 constructions are allowed. The minister assured the court relevant laws and court orders would be complied with.

The court took serious notice of the helm and affairs of Sindh Building Control Authority and observed that unchecked permission for unauthorized constructions in the city will subsequently convert the city into a graveyard. The court observed that unauthorized multistoryed buildings can be seen across the city as land grabbers and builder mafia are operating in the city with impunity with the connivance of the SBCA top officials, who have fled the country after making money. The court questioned the capability of SBCA to remove the unauthorized constructions and observed that unauthorized constructions were fully backed by its corrupt officials. The court expressed its serious apprehensions that millions of citizens could lose their lives due to ill-planned high-rise constructions if a high magnitude earthquake hit the city.

The DG Sindh Building Control Authority submitted that they were taking action against unauthorized high-rises and no building will be allowed in violation of by-laws. He complained that the SBCA was facing staff shortage to take action against unlawful constructions. The court inquired from the DG SBCA if it has allowed permission for construction of high rise buildings in DHA Phase 9 and Bahria Town. The court observed that former officials of SBCA have been now settled abroad after making money from unauthorized constructions backed by land and builders mafias.

The court observed that permission for unauthorized construction was not possible if the writ of the government was established in the city. The court observed that all playgrounds and parks have been encroached and there was no space left for the citizens and their rights had been compromised.

Justice Gulzar dubbed the SBCA department as an ‘exploiter’ and observed that all the biggest gangs were operating together for constructing unauthorized buildings in Karachi. The court observed that there were multiple claimants for one piece of land in Karachi who were issued fake letters by the departments.

Regarding the operation of the Circular Railways, the court directed the secretary railways to remove all encroachments from the railways land and ensure the KCR was made operational in accordance with the timeline undertook by the railways. The court also inquired as to why encroachments on railways land from Keamari and Kalapul were not removed and land recovered. The secretary railways submitted it could not be done due to resistance by the encroachers and sought police and Rangers assistance for clearing them. He said the Frontier Works Organizations has been assigned contracts for underpasses for Karachi Circular Railways and the FWO was undertaking the work. He claimed that 75% work on the KCR has been done and some portion was left, which was being completed in coordination with the Sindh government. The court observed that timeline for operation of KCR has not been met again and directed the railways and Sindh government to ensure completion of KCR in accordance with the given timeline. The court also warned action against officials in case of non-compliance with the court orders. While directing the railways secretary and deputy superintendent to ensure removal of encroachments from its land, the SC directed the police and Rangers to provide assistance to the railways.

The court also ordered the commissioner Karachi to take over possession of multistoryed commercial and residential project Tejori Heights, allegedly constructed on railways land in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and seize all the construction on the land. The court was informed by the railways counsel that the land was railways property which was unlawfully allotted to a private person and now a multistoryed building project had been started by a private builder Kamran Tessori.

The counsel for the private builder, Raza Rabbani, strongly opposed the application and submitted that the land had nothing to do with railways and in fact it was part of the government land of survey number 653. The SC’s bench observed there was contradiction and serious flaws in documents with regard to location of the particular land. The bench observed that builder's counsel had admitted that builder does not have the ownership of land at survey 190 and took the stance before the court that they had power of attorney for piece of land situated at Survey number 653, which is part and parcel of Survey 188 of the railways land. The court observed that it was claimed that rectification has been made in the land record but prima facie no right of interest was made out. The court ordered commissioner Karachi to seize all construction on the subject property and directed that no third party interest will be created till further order.

Taking up the Hyatt Regency case, the court directed secretary railways to submit a report about restoration of railways land given to Hyatt Regency in ‘80s within one month. The secretary railways informed the court that the issue of Hyatt Regency was to be put up before the cabinet meeting for reverting it back to the railways for its own purpose. The court questioned how the railways land worth trillions of rupees could be granted to a private party for mere Rs.46 million.

The court also inquired from commissioner KMC about the removal of encroachments from public parks and asked him if 4,050 square yards land was retrieved from encroaching builder for its multistoryed building project. The KMC commissioner submitted that subject plot was amalgamated by then city district council. The court observed that previous city government sold out the land to private builder but the land still belongs to KMC and directed the commissioner KMC to retrieve the land and submit compliance report.

Regarding the encroachments on Kidney Hill Park, the KMC officer submitted before the court that 80,000 saplings were planted there and more plantations would be carried out. He submitted that Kidney Hill Park to be opened for public by June 2021.

Regarding execution of Green Line Bus Project by the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company (KIDC), the court directed the company to make the bus project operational by June 2021. The court was informed by the COO of the KIDC that buses are expected to arrive in March and project will be made operational by June 2021. He said that the project was completed without obtaining any foreign bank loans. The court observed that city roads infrastructure was destroyed by making green line project in the middle of the main roads. The court observed that every project is launched with foreign loans including installation of water and sewerage lines and pointed out that billions of rupees were wasted in Reverse Osmosis water projects in the province. The court observed that the bus project is expected to be operational by June 2021 and made clear that no further time will be granted to the company.

The court issued a notice to Sindh government on application against the use of amenity land for constructing KIDC bus stations near Numaish (Old Exhibition) and directed the advocate general Sindh to submit reply on next date of hearing.

Regarding non-compliance of various court directives by commissioner Karachi, the bench warned the commissioner Karachi that he could be sent to prison for not complying with the court orders. The court observed that commissioner office is doing nothing for citizens and despite lapse of two years has not removed encroachments from the city. The court will resume its proceedings on Wednesday (today).