Sunday December 10, 2023

Gujjar and Orangi drains: SHC restrains demolition work of houses with lease deeds

May 08, 2021

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday restrained the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation from carrying out demolition work to the properties at Gujjar and Orangi town drains area of which registered lease deeds for 99 years have been issued by the former city district government Karachi, the predecessor of KMC.

Hearing a petition against the demolition of leased houses in the garb of anti-encroachment drive on drains, the SHC’s division bench, headed by Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi, however, observed that this interim order shall cease to have effect if any specific order for the demolition of 99 years leased properties, subject matter of the petition, has been passed by the Supreme Court.

Petitioners counsel Faisal Siddiqui produced the order of the Supreme Court issued on August 12, 2020 submitting that order of the SC was to the extent of removing encroachments in and around the Gujjar and Orangi drains. He submitted that the SC had also directed the Sindh government to ensure rehabilitation of the affected persons/residents of the area and all necessary facilities should be provided as required for rehabilitation of a civilized society.

He submitted that there was nothing mentioned in the order of the SC with regard to removal of occupants from their properties who were granted leases for 99 years issued under the Sindh Katchi Abadis Act, 1987 by the former CDGK.

Additional Commissioner Karachi submitted that the government has evolved a policy for the affectees and will provide Rs15,000 per month rent for 24 months for the affected persons and shall also provide accommodations according to Naya Pakistan housing scheme announced by the federal government.

Petitioner’s counsel submitted that the Sindh government planned to construct 30 feet wide roads and such a plan has not been brought to the knowledge of the Supreme Court at the time of passing the order and no permission has been granted to construct 30 feet roads on each side of the drains.

The counsel submitted that the KMC and other civic authorities have started marking for the demolition of houses of the residents up to extent of 30 feet on both sides of the drains. The additional commissioner Karachi submitted that process of construction of roads on both side of drains was under planning and supervision of National Disaster Management Authority and NDMA has assigned the job for designing including construction of road to their consultants. The petitioner’s counsel submitted that the matter was fixed before the Supreme Court on May 17. The KMC counsel confirmed the fact and submitted that the KMC also filed an application for obtaining clarification with regard to obtaining orders for demolition of the properties of the affectees of both the Orangi and Gujjar drains, who have been issued registered leases for 99 years.

The court observed that as the matter was already sub-judice before the SC, the high court has no jurisdiction to pass any order for interpreting the orders of SC. The court directed the petitioners and KMC counsel to place the relevant documents before the SC.

Hailing the Sindh High Court’s Friday decision to halt any demolition of leased properties built along the Orangi and Gujjar nullahs [stormwater drains] from being carried out, civil society activists and affected persons said that the Sindh government, Karachi Municipal Corporation and the National Disaster Management Authority had demolished a large number of leased houses unjustly after misusing the Supreme Court’s orders of cleaning stormwater drains.

Addressing a press conference at the Karachi Press Club, prominent rights activists Jibran Nasir and Abira Ashfaq, Awami Workers Party Karachi leader Khurram Ali, leaders of affected persons Erum Yasmeen, Syed Arif Shah, and Abid Asghar, and lawyer Khwaja Altaf said since February authorities had illegally demolished thousands of leased houses built at some distance from the Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah. They said that houses of working-class people were demolished by misusing the SC’s order against the encroachments while there is no order of the Supreme Court to demolish the leased houses.

“The victims, along with supporters of the Karachi Bachao Terheek and AWP, have been raising their voices against these illegal measures and demanding legal justification from government officials at the time of demolition,” Nasir said.

“The SHC has proved all our allegations to be true and has issued a temporary order regarding this illegal operation,” he said. “We are confident that on May 17, the SC will issue a permanent order against it.”

Nasir claimed that authorities have demolished the houses for construction of the roads on the two sides of nullah, which is part of the apex court’s order and it was admitted by Assistant Commissioner himself at SHC on Friday.

“The SHC also took notice of demolitions being conducted during the growing cases of Covid-19 and questioned how the government, on the one hand, was urging SOPs’ compliance yet rendering people homeless on the other,” he said.

Ashfaq said that the rehabilitation plan for the affectees was a part of the SC’s order.“But authorities have twisted the order and did not issue either advance notices or alternative land to the affectees,” she said.

Ali said that the ongoing eviction was, in fact, part of the larger plan to accommodate real estate mafia in districts of Central and West where land prices are higher. “Plan to construct a road along the drains have made it clear,” he said.

The AWP leader said that if working-class neighborhoods in Karachi cannot be regularised, then Bani Gala must also not be regularised. He called for the rich to be dealt with the same law as the working class.

Speakers also demanded the federal and Sindh governments to end the illegal demolition operation against the people of Karachi, They also demanded the government to rebuild the houses of all affectees either in the same manner in which they were demolished or provide immediately alternative land in the same district where their houses were demolished and where all basic facilities, including electricity, water, gas and transport are available to them.