Way back in 2015 a few hundred residents of Moon Garden in Gulistan e Jauhar spent two nights in open during chilling winters as protest when they were forced evacuation from their homes. As their flat site had been termed illegal by the Sindh High Court, allotments of apartments were declared malicious and the Court ordered the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) to demolish the building. The protesting residents blamed the Sindh government and their builder responsible for the crime, as the builder not only built more storeys than permitted by the law but also on a land that belonged to Pakistan Railways.
That protest got widespread coverage across the country persuading the Supreme Court of Pakistan to annul the verdict of Sindh High Court and fined the builder of Rs. 50 million which the builder willingly agreed to pay for violating the law. Although, the Supreme Court saved the residents from going homeless but this judgment also raised eyebrows as it was meant to set a bitter precedent of regularization of illegal construction on amenity lands by paying some financial penalties.
If at that time the Supreme Court’ verdict came as to demolish illegal construction along with financially compensate the residents or providing homes of equivalent standard or even sentence of the builder and authorities involved in the scam, it would have been much better which outright discouraged illegal construction in the city. But with this verdict the fear of punishment was vanished among greedy builders, who sped up their illegal constructions, china-cuttings and land-grabbing across the Karachi city.
Today, the consequences of that judgment are reflecting again. As the issue of illegal construction has resurfaced and an ongoing demolition drive by the KDA on the orders of Supreme Court is a subject of civic concern among the Karachites. The Supreme Court had on Nov 30, 2017 directed the KDA and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) to clear 35,000 amenity plots of the city of encroachments within two months. The SC’s two-member bench headed by the Justice Gulzar Ahmed issued directives to the KDA and the KMC on the petition of a civilian. Thus, the estate and enforcement department of the KDA is, under its ongoing operation, demolishing various structures including marriage halls and residential building raised illegally on amenity plots in areas like Korangi, F.B. Ara, Gulshan e Iqbal, Gulistan e Jauhar, North Nazimabad, PIB Colony, Laiquatabad, Nazimabad and Saddar. In a statement Sindh Local Government Minister has asserted that in line with the Supreme Court directives, the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) and Karachi Development Authority would continue their anti-encroachment drive on amenity plots “till all the illegal constructions are razed to the ground.”
On the other hand, the demolition of structures that included residential facilities purchased by hundreds of Karachites in ignorance of the fact that those buildings were raised illegally attracted serious reactions from MQM-Pakistan which termed it a “politically motivated” drive by Sindh Government. The KMC’ City Council also passed unanimous resolution to comply with the orders of the country’ top court from removing encroachments, but requested consideration for people living on occupied properties.
Housing and accommodations have always been an undomesticated issue in Karachi city. With a population of over 20 million, uncontrolled growth rate and unchecked magnitude of migration from rural and tribal areas, the problem of sheltering is getting worsened with each passing day. That ignited a web of encroachments via unregistered Katchi Abadis throughout metropolitan and also illegal construction by grabbing amenity lands like parks, playgrounds, welfare centres and etc.
The present Supreme Court judgment must be welcome without doubt but it should have also been accompanied with serious punishments to land grabbers and concerned land authorities. Also, commercial constructions on amenity plots like wedding halls, madarssahs, private schools and private clubs mustn’t be spared but the residential constructions should be reviewed again and alternate shelters for displaced people need to be sought.
Mayor Waseem Akhtar rightly said encroachments at parks and amenity plots should never be allowed but if the people were to be displaced, they be provided with alternative living spaces with approval of the City Council. That’s the reason not only protests are continued in affected areas but also the City Council – the elected representative body of the metropolitan — has requested the apex court to review its decision.
Members of the City Council also questioned the regularization of Katachi Abadis by the Sindh Government. It is estimated there are presently more than 5000 Katachi Abadis, Goth or slum areas in Karachi’ vicinity, while 10 years back their quantity was less than 2000. The Federal Government together with the Sindh Government cannot spare from blame because both have not launched any low cost public housing scheme in Karachi since decades. The prices of land of Karachi is so up today that a poor or even a middleclass family cannot afford now any home of their own here.
The housing and shelter is a massive problem of the day in Karachi and the governments have no intentions to solve this basic human need. The result — might be temporary stopped — but illegal construction will remain in full swing in the city and the poor residents remain the victims of land grabbing mafia in the city.