The Gujjar Nullah Eviction: An Example Of Climate Injustice
A few days ago, Climate Action Now – Pakistan along with the Progressive Students Collective (PSC) and other organizations held a climate strike in Lahore and other major cities including Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar. One of the main problems highlighted in terms of climate injustice was the issue of forced evictions and demolitions, a classic example of which in present times is the Ravi Urban Development Authority (RUDA) project and most recently the Gujjar Nullah cutting.
The problem of the Gujjar Nullah demolition began in August 2020,when Karachi saw record-breaking rainfall which lead to flooding and major damage to infrastructure across the city. One of the most affected communities was the Gujjar Nullah along with Korangi and Mehmoodabad, where most of the houses went under water.
This lead to public anger and widespread criticism of both the provincial and federal governments. Prime Minister Imran Khan then tasked the National Disaster Management Authority to team up with the Sindh government for the cleaning and remodelling of the nullahs .Previously the Sindh government has also been working with the World Bank for the cleaning of nullahs and sewerage drains in the city. In this project, help was also sought from the NED University engineering and infrastructure department which proposed a plan to widen the nullahs first. This plan includes the demolition of nearly 4,000 concrete structures on both sides of Gujjar Nullah as the first step, which would affect more than 15,000 households – naturally resulting in hue and cry among the residents of the area.
The government has also came up with a poorly-chalked-out compensation policy which proposed that those residents whose property would be damaged more than 30% would be compensated with a meagre payment of Rs 360,000. Compensation will come in the shape of 2 years of rent calculated at Rs15,000 a month. This will be Rs 90,000 for six months of rent. This Rs 90,000 will be paid to the people every six months for two consecutive years. The paltry sum of 15,000 cannot be used to rent a room for a month, let alone purchase a property. Moreover many of the commercial and residential structures have been deemed illegal under the Removal and Prevention of Encroachment laws, as a result of which they will get no compensation.
This has lead to trepidation and outrage among the residents of the area. Many of them have been living in the community for decades. A lot of the residents have leases for their houses and many have it on stamp paper too. However, most of them say that their leases are now being cancelled. One of the main queries raised by them is as follows. If they truly were occupying illegal land, then why were they made to pay for infrastructure facilities like gas, water and electricity for years?
Most of the people have received no notice or warnings about the eviction. There is nothing in writing: just the municipal body marking the houses that are to be demolished.
Protests against the nullah evictions have seen a huge turnout of the residents – with young and old pleading to save their homes. Many of them demand homes as a compensation for their loss. These demolitions will result in the displacement of about 4,000 people. There are even more who will not only become homeless but also increasingly vulnerable to climate uncertainties including heat waves and floods.
The Gujjar Nullah has been referred as an encroachment by many, but activists point out that most of the major housing societies are also land encroachments. They ask as to why it is those lowest in the pecking order who are punished.
Residents have been asking for finding an alternative solution to manage the flooding for a long time. Many point out that Karachi has always been an unplanned city, and so they doubt that cutting off one nullah can solve the city’s flooding problem without paying attention to other causes including mismanagement, sewerage disposal, mixing of sewerage and rain drains and, most importantly, mega projects in the delta region which are also examples of encroachment.
Climate change and mitigation policies disproportionately always impact the working class and in Pakistan we have already seen the that most often it is the vulnerable who are scapegoated and impacted because of unstable urban development and poor planning. The Gujjar Nullah is, sadly, yet another example of this.