July 26, 2021
By Shaukat Korai
One half of Saima’s home on the banks of the Gujjar nullah in Karachi is in ruins. While she harbours hopes that what remains of her house will somehow be saved, the Supreme Court on June 14, 2021, ordered the authorities to resume demolishing all structures on either side of one of Karachi’s biggest storm drains as part of its anti-encroachment operations.
On the date of the announcement of the verdict, affected residents protested outside the Supreme Court’s Karachi Registry. A petition to stay the demolition drives was also heard by the Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, however the court ruled that any construction on the nullah’s banks is illegal, and that the “leases” issued to residents by government agencies were forged.
Part of Saima’s home, which was purchased by her mother-in-law with her hard-earned savings and pension after she retired from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), was torn down in the first phase of the government’s anti-encroachment drive along the Gujjar nullah. In wake of the court order, whatever is left standing will also be destroyed.
A significant portion of Karachi’s populace resides in slums. It is estimated that about 40,000 people will be homeless as a result of the anti-encroachment operations along the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs. The government claims that residents at the nullah’s banks have encroached upon the city’s most important drainage channels over the years, resulting in regular blockages that cause flash flooding during the monsoon season.
Residents of the Gujjar and Orangli nullahs have paltry incomes, and are not literate. They claim that the government had assured them that the lease documents shown to them were legitimate. Now, the affected families demand to know why they are being punished instead of those responsible for duping them with hoax documents.
Activists say that it is a human tragedy that such a large number of people are being affected in this way by the anti-encroachment drive. They urge that the Supreme Court should not turn a bling eye to this situation.
Barrister Salauddin Ahmed provides that the authorities should have at least shown the plan of the city to people so that it can be known which constructions are legal or illegal. He further adds that the Supreme Court ordered for the master plan a long time ago however it has yet to be presented.
Residents and social workers of Gujjar nullah say that if it is necessary to demolish the buildings, the victims should be given alternative accommodation to prevent widespread displacement and homelessness.
Urban Planner Muhammad Tauheed states that the mismanagement and occupation of government lands in Karachi is the sole fault of the city’s administrators who have left Karachi at the mercy of builders.
The Supreme Court has directed the federal and provincial governments to rehome those affected by the anti-encroachment operations, and issued orders for the submission of proposals in this regard within a month.