November 26th, 2021
“Have mercy on us! Three years have passed since the authorities bulldozed our houses in the restoration project of the Karachi Circular Railway but not a single government official has come by to compensate for the loss of our homes,” says Abdul Rehman, an elderly man whose house was demolished in Quaid-e-Azam Colony.
The man lost his home when the city authorities carried out anti-encroachment operations in Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Quaid-i-Azam Colony, Gharibabad, Punjabi Basti, Moosa Colony and Mujahid Colony to clear the circular railway route. Houses of approximately 1,100 people were demolished in the anti-encroachment drive.
“Even representatives of political parties have done nothing towards our resettlement us beyond paying lip service,” Abdul Rehman says.
Some of them are living on the rubble of their destroyed houses while others are forced to look for rented accommodations, Abdul Rehman tells VoicePk. “Where will the poor folks go?” he laments.
The federal government is working to rehabilitate the decades-old Karachi Circular Railway as a modern urban mass rail system under a public-private partnership project at an estimated cost of Rs 207 billion. The authorities are claiming the rapid rail transit project will be completed in three years.
The project has led to displacement of scores of families whose houses were on the encroached land of the 44-kilometre rail track.
The affectees of the KCR project claim that the city authorities and provincial government are ignoring the 2019 Supreme Court decision. The two-member bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, had directed that the people dispossessed or dislocated from the anti-encroachment operation to clear the KCR track should be accommodated appropriately. The court also had directed provision of basic amenities to them in the area where they were to be resettled.
Some of the affectees vented their frustration at a recent public hearing held at Karachi Railway Station over the environment impact assessment report on the Karachi Circular Railway. The public hearing was organised by the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency.
According to officials, the restoration of the KCR will lessen impact of the climate change in the city as its locomotives would be run on electricity. Speaking to Voicepk.net, Muhammad Imran Sabir, deputy director at Sindh Environmental Protection Agency, says his agency has asked the Railways Ministry to upgrade the EIA report following intervention of the Supreme Court. Sabir says the project will solve Karachi’s traffic problems and help reduce air pollution.
The SEPA official says a committee is looking into complaints of people dislocated from the KCR project. “We are aware of their complaints lodged in the records,” he says. Sabir says his agency had also assured the displaced people at the public hearing that their complaints would be resolved. The complaints committee is part of the KCR project and all complaints will be redressed in accordance with the law, he adds. “The environment agency has conveyed instructions of the Supreme Court regarding displaced residents to Pakistan Railways,” Sabir says. The environment protection official says the agency will also communicate and share any reply from Pakistan Railways about compensation and resettlement with the affected people. “We intend to share the reply with them because in case of any difficulty they should have some evidence of their claims,” he explains.
Responding to concerns over electricity supply to the locomotives amid proverbial power cuts in the city, he says an agreement has been signed with K-Electric for ‘uninterrupted power supply’ to electric trains under the project.
However, the affectees term all government assurances as hollow promises, calling the anti-encroachment operation sheer injustice to inhabitants living there for over 50 years.
“The government bulldozed hundreds of homes without warning,” says Kausar, another displaced resident, as she narrates her ordeal of the demolition of her abode during the month of Ramadan in 2019.
Residents in Gharibabad, another affected locality, say the apex court had asked the government to provide them with all the basic facilities for their resettlement. “Government officials had even shown us a piece of land in Juma Goth where the displaced persons were to be resettled but no resettlement has taken place in the period of over two years,” another middle-aged displaced resident tells Voicepk.net.
The KCR project will reduce traffic problems and pollution in the heavily-populated city. However, displaced residents are calling on the provincial government to properly compensate them or provide them alternate residences for the loss of their homes.