The displaced

March 21, 2021

The affected families say that the government has not paid compensation money or provided any land for the constrution of new houses to replace their demolished properties, where they had been living for the past 50 years

Images courtesy of Zafar Ahmad Khan.

Over 15,000 families lost their houses on both sides of the Gujjar Nala in Karachi’s Central district. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s (KMC) Anti-Encroachment Wing has launched an operation to demolish around 4,000 houses, under the orders of the Supreme Court.

The affected families are worried and protesting in Punjab Colony, Punjabi Christian Colony, Sadiq Nagar, New Karachi, Kausar Niazi Colony, Shafiq Mor and other areas where hundreds of houses have been demolished by the KMC. The affected families say that the government has not paid compensation money or provided any land for the construction of new houses to replace their demolished properties, where they had been living for 50 years.

The authorities claim that they are providing compensation cheques to the affected families. KMC officials say that Sindh’s provincial government is providing compensation to affected families in Orangi Town, Mehmoodabad and around Gujjar Nala. Those who have leased structures will be compensated, but illegal occupants, whose structures are hindering the city’s key sewage system, will not get anything, according to KMC officials.

Sonia, a 35-year-old Christian lady, living in Kausar Niazi Colony on the edge of Gujjar Nala says that her family has been living there for decades. They purchased a small house in this area with their hard-earned money. “Within a day, the Sindh government has demolished the house that took us years to build,” she remarks.

“Where will we go if our house is demolished?” she asks. “We will not vacate our houses even if the government kills us under a bulldozer.” The government has not paid enough attention to the residents and hasn’t provided any replacement land, says Sonia.

Officials of the KMC’s anti-encroachment wing visited the area a month ago and marked the outer walls of the houses to be demolished, Saifullah, living on the edge of Gujjar Nala in Punjab Colony tells me. My father had purchased this 200 square yards house about 40 years ago for Rs 30,000. It is now worth about Rs 2 million, he says.

“In 2017 and 2018, the KMC bulldozed four rooms of our house in an anti-encroachment operation. We have not been paid even a single penny in compensation,” Saifullah says. He says they have barely repaired their house, but now the KMC is preparing to demolish it entirely. He calls it an injustice. “I am worried about where I will take my family for shelter if my house is demolished by the KMC,” he says.

When an operation against encroachments was launched for the first time in the Gujjar Nala area, PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto, Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah and other ministers had visited Gujjar Nala and assured the affected families that the provincial government would provide them alternative lodgings. But, Saifullah says that the PPP’s Sindh government has forgotten its promises. It is very hard to build or purchase a house in Karachi during this difficult time for the poor, he says.

Rubina, a 45-year-old woman belonging to the Christian community and living in the Punjabi Christian Colony says that her family has been living in this colony for the last three decades. There are 1,600 houses, belonging to the Christian community in this colony on the same side of the Gujjar Nala. She says they have been settled there since 1960.

“My house was first demolished three years ago. Now there is just a room and a half left where I live with my four adult children and husband,” Rubina says. She says the governments have always oppressed the poor and taken no action against big land-grabbers in the city. “Our elders purchased land in this area and we have been settled here for decades, although the place lacks safe drinking water and other basic facilities,” says Rubina. “I request the Sindh government to stop this operation and not displace the people.”

The provincial government has decided recently to construct 30-feet-wide roads on both sides of the Gujjar Nala. For that purpose, at least 4,000 houses are to be demolished. According to the government record, the Gujjar Nala was originally 210 feet wide and 13 kilometres long. It is the longest natural storm water drain in Karachi. After the illegal construction and establishment of katchi abadis on both sides of the Gujjar Nala, its width has been narrowed down to a few feet. The Gujjar Nala starts from the New Karachi area and meets the Lyari River near Mureed Goth.

There has been no drinking water in Punjab Colony, Punjabi Christian Colony and other localities surrounding Gujjar Nala for the past 15 years, according to Sultana, a woman belonging to the Rajput community. She says that her children fetch water from other areas. “We have not had water in the pipelines since the MQM was in power.” People do not have basic facilities, including water, sanitation and health in these areas. Sultana says that fever, typhoid, asthma, malaria and rabies are common in the Gujjar Nala area. Garbage, sewage water and an unhealthy environment are the major causes of these diseases.

Saleem Soomro, the New Karachi assistant commissioner, says that they have demolished more than 300 illegal structures from New Karachi to the Shafiq Mor area. A mosque and a church were also demolished in 11-E, New Karachi. The Sindh government is providing Rs 360,000 to the families residing in the 70 to 80 structure that will be demolished in this operation, Somroo said. He says no money or alternative land would be provided in compensation for the demolition of commercial structures. 15,000 rupees per month will be paid to the affected families for two years to cover for rent.

Muhammad Aslam, a 55-year-old washerman living near Gujjar Nala says he has a son on dialysis. He is the only bread-earner for the family and his house is marked for demolition. He says that he makes only 400 to 500 rupees daily, which is insufficient to feed his family and for the treatment of his son.

Anwar Bhatti, a 64-year-old man, who lives in the Punjabi Christian Colony, says that more than 60 houses and a church were demolished in the anti-encroachment operation near Gujjar Nala. This is an old Christian community facing displacement, he says. He says the houses belonging to the Christian community that were demolished in the anti-encroachment operation by KMC officials were constructed over 80 square yards each. He says they have been paid no compensation by the government. “I have also submitted the documents for the demolished church for compensation or allotment of land for the reconstruction of the church,’’ he said.

More than 60 Christian families have migrated from the area and settled down in Lyari because of the anti-encroachment operation. The people are disappointed by the indifferent attitude of the authorities. Anwar Bhatti says at least 200 houses belonging to the Christian community, over a 13-kilometre stretch of the Gujjar Nala, are to be demolished. He says five churches and some mosques and imam bargahs may also be demolished during this operation.

Bashir Siddique, the senior KMC director, who is in charge of this operation, is unable to confirm the count. “We are just demolishing the houses where we see the marking,” he says. He says the government is providing compensation cheques to the affected families in Mehmoodabad and Orangi Town. “You should ask Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah why the compensation money has not been paid where it has not been paid,” Bashir Siddique says.

The writer is a freelance journalist based in Karachi. He can be reached on Twitter @Zafar_Khan5

The displaced