Leaders of the Karachi Bachao Tehreek (KBT) on Friday demanded that the Sindh government include people affected by the anti-encroachment operations of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs, Haji Lemu Goth, Sahafi Colony, Aladin Park and Karachi Circular Railway in the commission to resolve the issue of unauthorised constructions in the city.
They also demanded that each affected family be provided compensation according to their land and construction, not just 80-square-yard plots. KBT leader Khurram Ali and others addressed a press conference at the Karachi Press Club in response to the Sindh government’s announcement of forming a commission for allotting alternative plots to the affected people.
They said that when the Supreme Court ordered the Sindh government to remove encroachments from storm water drains, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), on orders of Sindh Local Government Minister Nasir Hussain Shah, began widening the canals as well as freeing up space on either sides of the drains to build 30-foot wide roads. They claimed that this was not a part of any master plan of the city.
“Not a single house demolished in the current anti-encroachment drive on Gujjar and Orangi nullahs was located on the drain,” said Ali. “In fact, these demolitions were carried out to carve out space for the construction of 30-foot wide roads.”
He remarked that as Pakistan Peoples Party Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had expressed sympathies with the victims of the demolition drives four months later, it was important to question why the Sindh government was putting the onus of the demolitions solely in the Supreme Court.
“Why did Bilawal not ask the Sindh government how KMC officials stood in court and wrongfully declared the leases to be illegal. [They were] the same KMC officials who had granted these leases in the first place?”
The KBT leaders said that the biggest question here was that if the width of the road along the Mehmoodabad Nullah, which falls in the constituency of Sindh Education Minister Saeed Ghani, could be limited to 12 feet, how could the same not be done with the roads being built along the Orangi and Gujjar nullahs.
“All renowned urban planners, from Arif Hasan to Dr Nausheen Anwar, have categorically stated that these roads have never been part of any Karachi master plan and that they are of no significant benefit to anyone,” said Ali. “Limiting the width of these roads to 10 feet and not expanding the width of the drain could have saved all the houses that were demolished. This means there is ample land for the government to resettle the affected families on the same land they were displaced from.”
He added that the KBT wished to explain the on-ground situation to Bilawal and the Sindh government without doubting their intentions so that they could accept its legitimate demands.
“The KBT believes that only after complete consultation with the victims can a plan be developed that can truly alleviate the problems of the nearly one million people, including 21,000 children, who have been brutally and needlessly displaced,” he said.
At the same time, the victims of Haji Lemu Goth, Sahafi Colony, Aladdin Park and KCR demolitions should also be included in this commission, the KBT leader said. “Even today, the KMC with the help of its staff and law enforcement personnel is continuing to violate the people’s privacy and the sanctity of their homes. It is harassing all affectees, including women and children, and depriving them of their homes as if they were second-class citizens,” said Ali.
He explained that according to the apex court’s decision, the government was obliged to provide lease replacement to all the demolished houses without any discrimination. “The Sindh government must not discriminate in this regard. Therefore, if an affectee has lost a 200-square-yard house, they must be allotted a plot measuring the same,” he added.
He claimed that there were huge discrepancies in the survey carried out by KMC as a four-storey house and a one-storey house had not been treated separately in the survey. Multiple families living in one home have been counted as one family, he stated.
Similarly, corruption is rife in the distribution of cheques and people had not even received a cheque of Rs15,000 in rent, said Ali. The KBT demanded that no houses be demolished till a detailed survey had been conducted by the Technical Training Resource Centre for the victims.