Karachi Circular Railway: An Epitome of Destruction
It was almost a month ago when the apex court gave an ultimatum to the Railways authorities for the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway. However, as the said duration ends, there are innumerable obstacles to the KCR initiative and one of these is thousands of residents living along the KCR tracks awaiting displacement in case of an anti-encroachment drive.
Demolishment under the pretext of KCR revival has been taking place from time to time in a rather haphazard manner. Back in 2003, the federal government under Gen Musharraf included KCR in one of its infrastructure revival projects.
Subsequently the PPP government in 2009 handed over the KCR initiative to Japan International Cooperation Agency. JICA with its expression of interest back in the day turned out to be a displeasing withdrawal amid frustration and hurdles. Now that the Japanese are out and the KCR has been included under the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, it requires massive upheavals, to begin with.
It is important to note that the ongoing KCR initiative under the direct orders of the apex court is leaning toward bureaucratic chaos of its own, Pakistan Railways, which reports directly to the federal minister, Sheikh Rasheed. It requires assistance from local authorities, which are under the ambit of the PPP-led provincial government. In two decades of a nonexistent KCR, the worst that could happen is a political standoff between the provincial and the federal government.
Although the provincial transport minister, Awais Shah, seems adamant towards a complete revival of the project, ironically or so the PPP government has failed to come up with a single viable alternative for the city`s transport in the last decade.
When it comes to the authorities dealing with the issue at hand, there are several stakeholders at play here. Pakistan Railways which primarily owns the land covering KCR tracks, the provincial government tasked with coming up with a resettlement plan for those affected and finally the city district authorities.
Unfortunately, these stakeholders lack a unified front towards the said issue. What appears to be a more pressing matter is the timing of the ongoing anti-encroachment operation leaving behind displaced families with nowhere to go.
The drives in question took place days before Eid during the holy month of Ramazan, not to forget under scorching heat at a temperature of almost 40 degrees Celsius.
“The least they could have done is wait for Eid-ul- Fitr to be over, what kind of government does this with its own people”, remarked one of the shopkeepers near Gulshan-e-Iqbal Town while talking to NayaDaur. The residents were of the view that they have been here since 1999, back in the day when KCR was closed down for good.
“I have been here for 25 years, even when KCR was operational”, added an elderly man who was a street vendor.
The authorities have adopted a sugarcoat response here, which lays out the illegality of the encroached settlements. There are certain questions which demand immediate answers. Why were these settlements legal prior to the apex court orders? If the illegality claim stands true then how the settlements in question had access to utilities including electricity, gas, and water?
“If the government wants KCR to be operational, they can easily do it, they have ample land to relocate us but our voices remain unheard,” said one of the residents.
These statements negate the presumption or official response which claims that settlers are against the Karachi Circular Railway.
A prominent lawyer and activists Jibran Nasir tweeted pictures of protests that took place near Regal Chowk.
Massive rally from Regal to Press Club by #KarachiCircularRailway affectees. Their houses are being demolished with any compensation or resettlement in sight. 1000s spent their Eid on top of the rubble of what once was their home @ImranKhanPTI @BBhuttoZardari @wasimakhtar1955 pic.twitter.com/JLE8Fx4jvX
— M. Jibran Nasir (@MJibranNasir) June 9, 2019
Whether or not the authorities will be able to revive the circular railway, it continues to render people from the lower strata homeless. The incumbent government with worsening economic situation cannot afford thousands of displaced protestors to the streets of Karachi.
Whatever the circumstances may be, the government of the day needs to come with a viable alternative for the affected, which is tenable in the long term. For starters, the mayor and both the federal and provincial ministers should abstain from the blame game in the eyes of the apex court.
In hindsight, it is indeed about time that both the provincial and federal governments forget their political vendettas to provide Karachi with a modern mass transit system.