Karachi's Week Of Evictions: The Impact

Karachi's Week Of Evictions: The Impact
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court earlier this week headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed, while hearing a case regarding encroachments on Orangi and Gujjar Nullah at the Karachi Registry, directed the anti-encroachment department to continue its operation.

Naya Daur Media spoke to activists and organizers who have been following these developments.

On Monday, a case related to encroachments on Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah was heard under the chairmanship of Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed.

During the hearing, the Chief Justice of Pakistan asked whether the leased places were legal. On this, the lawyer of the victim Faisal Siddiqui said that all the leases are legal. The Chief Justice remarked that all the leases are fake.

The court said that it was decided that first all the people should be compensated and then the encroachments should be stopped – and that compensation should be paid but the operation should not be stopped. It may be mentioned that the Anti-Encroachment Department had recently demolished more than 1,500 houses at three places in Karachi while conducting operations against encroachments on Orangi Town Nullah and Gujjar Nullah.

According to the Anti-Encroachment Department, a stretch of 8 km from the 26-km-long Gujjar Nullah has been cleared, and a 6-km stretch of the 23-km-long Orangi Town Nullah has also been cleared.

Khurram Ali of the Awami Workers Party and Karachi Bachao Tehreek, who is fighting for the victims of Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, told Naya Daur Media that a single decision of the Supreme Court would displace 100,000 people from these two areas – including 21,000 children.

According to Khurram Ali, a survey found that there are more than 4,900 houses on Gujjar Nullah alone, but this figure is staggeringly high and the consequences of this operation will be devastating to the humans living there.

A journalist reporting on the Gujjar Nullah and Orangi victims in Sindh told Naya Daur Media that this week's Supreme Court decision was a bomb dropped only on those who had legally acquired the land, and that no action was taken against those who received the money. The journalist said, "These people had not only acquired the land by paying money, but Sindh government agencies had also installed electricity and gas meters and these people were paying the bills. Yet without giving any notice, their houses were snatched in an instant." He added that a small newspaper had advertised that their houses would be demolished but no one was given a personal notice which is against the law.

Khurram Ali believes that an impression is being given that the people living in these two places have occupied these lands but that this is contrary to the facts. "Most of the people living in these places settled here after the Partition of India, because at that time the country lacked resources, so people settled in these two places."

Ali further says that the occupation is not a "mafia" but instead that they have bought the land on lease with money. "The Sindh government should take action against the Karachi Metropolitan Authority and Karachi Development Authority who took huge sums of money and settled people here – who are now displaced."

The Chief Justice of Pakistan said in Monday's hearing that while the authorities cannot stop the encroachments, "we will order the Sindh government to rehabilitate the victims as it was the responsibility of the Sindh government to compensate the people in this regard."

According to Khurram Ali, if people have to be evicted, then it ought to have been done through legal action. "Evict them by paying them in a respectful manner, but evicting people like this from their homes is violation of their constitutional rights."

It is to be noted that the victims had approached the Sindh High Court against this operation. In this context, the Sindh High Court had stopped the administration from demolishing the leased houses around Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah in Karachi and asked the Sindh government for clarification. The Sindh High Court, while remarking on the demolition of houses acquired on leased land, had asked that if no mechanism was set up to resettle the victims, then why were people being evicted.

According to Khurram Ali, the pretext of cleaning the nullahs is untrue. "If the Sindh government cannot clean the drains, then the responsibility should not be placed on the residents because there are no obstacles in cleaning the drains. And this population is located at a great distance." He took the position that the 30-metre road that the Sindh government is talking about is not mentioned in the Supreme Court decision.

Naya Daur Media contacted Karachi Development Authority and Sindh Metropolitan several times to ask for their position, but they did not respond.