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Sunday December 05, 2021

Housing and the people

October 27, 2021

It is only a matter of time now before the residential building Nasla Tower in Karachi comes down as a result of a controlled detonation as ordered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan. This episode has once again underscored the way the rights of common people in this country are trampled over by various quarters. The case went on for long, there were multiple petitions to save the building and at least to secure the payment to apartment owners before the demolition. Now, as per the SC order, the tower is set to be demolished. Around 25 percent of the tower is built on encroached land, but the order makes it clear that the entire building is to be razed to the ground. The owners of apartments in the said tower have been saying that it is not their fault and they cannot move out for lack of other accommodation, but the demolition is to be carried out.

The court has ordered the government of Sindh to make payments to apartment owners at market prices, but that is yet to materialise. The 15-storey residential building was declared illegal in its entirety in June 2021 as the tower was built on an area in excess of what was originally leased. Not unrelated to this are the cases of compensation to the people whose leased houses were demolished in the anti-encroachment operations along the Orangi and Gujjar storm-water drains (nullahs). In this case also the apex court ordered the resettlement of the affected people within a year. The Gujjar, Mehmood Abad and Orangi nullahs are the three major storm-water outlets in Karachi where encroachments have been removed. Over six thousand people were evicted during the operations, mostly belonging to the lower-income strata. These people have been demanding shelter for their families but to no avail. Now there is a need for the governments at the federal and provincial levels to fulfil their commitments to pay compensation to the affected people.

The same applies to the shop owners of Garden and Empress Market who saw their decades’ old shops demolished within a matter of weeks. These shop owners also had allotment documents from the concerned authorities, but they lost their businesses, and no government official received any punishment. All these cases show a callous disregard for the rights of the people who suddenly find themselves on roads without their established business and homes. Irrespective of the merits and demerits of the courts’ decisions in all these cases, at least a couple of things require immediate attention: all compensations should be paid at the market rate; and in the future all concerned officials should be brought to book who were responsible for the negligence in their duties by allowing illegal constructions and providing documents to builders that are ultimately proved to be forged or illegal by the courts.