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SC Verdict Okaying Demolitions Shatters Hopes Of Orangi, Gujjar Nullahs Affectees

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“Dear Chief Justice, we went to school, but we had no homes when we came back. Where should we go? Please serve justice,”  these lines were inscribed on a banner held by the affected children who were protesting demolitions along Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs. The protest was held outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday. Holding placards and shouting slogans, children were urging the Supreme Court to save their homes along nullahs which have been declared encroachments.

But their innocent request was not granted and on Monday the Supreme Court ordered the anti-encroachment drive to continue. Cleaning and widening of rainwater and drainage drains is now underway. As part of this drive, houses along the nullahs are being demolished. “By demolishing working class neighbourhoods, the state is creating a humanitarian crisis that would displace 100,000 people, including 21,000 children,” says Arslan Ghani, head of the Orangi Nala Affeectes Committee.

Ghani lamented that 90 per cent of the buildings in Karachi were on encroached land. He said no action was taken against the elite housing societies formed after deforestation of mangroves.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed heard the case at the Karachi Registry on Monday. The victims had filed a petition in the top court against the demolitions.

A large number of victims protested on the call of Gujjar nullah victims committee, Karachi Bachao Tehreek and civil society in front of the Supreme Court Karachi Registry during the hearing of the petition.

Erum Yasmeen, a midwife to most of those children protesting against the demolitions of their houses, said their children are forced to spend the summer without any shelter. “They have been dropped out of school owing to their homes being demolished, while children living in elite housing societies, built on encroached land, live in air-conditioned rooms and attend schools,” she said.

On 12 August 2020, the SC passed an order, following the disaster caused in Karachi when the city was struck by catastrophic rain, to clean up nullahs and remove encroachments.

In February 2021, anti-encroachment drive was initiated along major storm-water drains in Karachi, including the Mehmodabad nullah, Gujjar Nullah and Orangi Nullah.

According to an estimate, more than 40 low income housing settlements are located along the nullas, where 8,000 families have been living for generations. These houses are now being demolished. “Many settlements along the banks of nullas are as old as this country. Some houses were already demolished in 2016, and the displaced people have not been compensated and rehabilitated,” said Mohammad Abid Asghar, President Gujjar Nullah affectees committee.

Abid Asghar was beaten up by unidentified persons in Kausar Niazi last month. He has been resisting demolitions of houses along Gujjar Nullah.

Meanwhile, dozens of activists and writers termed the Supreme Court’s verdict allowing demolitions ‘unjust’. Speaking to Naya Daur Media, Khurram Ali, General Secretary Awami Workers Party (AWP) Karachi and leader Karachi Bachao Tehreek, said that the chief justice did not even look at the leases and declared them fake, despite the fact that both tribunal and high court had granted stay orders on the basis of the same leases.

Khurram said that it was ironic that the apex court always favoured Bahria Town which is an ‘encroachment by every definition’. “It is clear that the affectees of Gujjar and Orangi Nullah have been only punished because of their class,” he said.

Many victims told their houses were completely legal and leased by the relevant agencies, and that they had a legal right to get alternative housing if the government demolished them.

In the absence of effective urban planning, millions of Karachi citizens live in unplanned housing settlements.  Architect and urban planner Arif Hassan terms Gujjar nullahs anti-encroachment drive a scheme of land grab and real estate profiteering.

“This is a way of occupying the land, when wide roads are built along the nullahs the land will be pressured. And those who have lived here will be evicted and real estate development will take place. If not, then it is incomprehensible, because according to our maps, there are very few houses that are blocking the drains,” he explains.

Over the many years, nullahs areas have been encroached, and drains have been full with sewage and solid waste.

While speaking to media, Arif Hassan said the real problem with the drains is lack of cleanliness, and they are full of garbage everywhere. “Wherever the drains that fall into the sea are closed, they also need to be cleaned. This action should be taken before all else,” he says.

He also asked that if a 15 feet wide road is required along with the drains in the Katchi Abadi then why 50 to 65 feet wide roads are being constructed.

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