RAWALPINDI, July 21: Though political leaders and civic agencies continue claiming to have taken precautionary measures to avoid flooding in Nullah Leh and secure people living along its bank during the monsoons, dwellers of a slum at Railway Road seem not on their priority list.
A visit to the katchi abadi near the slaughterhouse at the bank of the nullah showed that its dwellers were at the risk of flooding.
The Rawal Town Municipal Administration (RTMA) and the Rawalpindi Cantonment Board (RCB) turned a blind eye to the establishment of the slum about two years back.
The RTMA claimed that it had cleared all the hurdles along the nullah for the smooth flow of water in the monsoon season. During the monsoon, the water level in Leh Nullah rises to about 20 feet causing flooding in the city.
It may be mentioned that the Leh along with drains and other nullahs get choked every year during the monsoon, creating problems for the residents. But the flooding in Leh Nullah has always been used as a political instrument by local leaders of different political parties.
They always try to get the sympathies of the people living along the nullah by visiting their areas and promising to take all possible measures to protect them against flooding.
But beyond that, they have failed to do anything practically or devise a permanent solution to the issue.
It may be recalled that Leh Nullah witnessed a devastating flood on July 23, 2001, causing dozens of causalities, widespread destructions and loss of property worth billions of rupees. Since then, the city district administration has been undertaking preventive measures against flooding in the nullah.
This year too, the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) launched a cleanliness drive and in coordination with the city government’s municipal services removed mud and other waste from Nullah Leh and 11 other nullahs and drains in the 46 union councils to prevent a flood-like situation during the monsoon.
But the lives of the 100 nomad residents of the Railway Road slum is still at danger despite the fact that the government has been spending over Rs50 million every year on the cleanliness of Leh Nullah. “There is a need to shift the nomads to a safer place to protect them from any untoward situation in the coming days,” said Mohammad Imran, a resident of the nearby Gowalmandi area, while talking to Dawn.
“We are living at the vacant place as there was no other land for our accommodation,” said Mohammad Wazir, a dweller of the katchi abadi. He said before coming here they lived at Dhoke Hassu but the land belonged to the railway department which forced them to vacate it two years back.
Nazir Ahmed, another slum dweller, said they had settled down near the slaughterhouse because it would help them collect animal hides and other parts and sell it in the market to earn livelihoods.
He said they had pitched their tents at a high place and there was no danger to their lives from flooding.
Some other residents said they were willing to shift somewhere else if the government provided them an alternative space.
“It is wrong to dislocate the nomads from their present location without providing them an alternate accommodation,” said MPA Arif Abbasi of the PTI, who represents the area.
He said the provincial government had sufficient money to provide accommodation to the poor residents of the katchi abadi. “There is a dire need to provide a shelter to these people.”
He said millions of rupees were spent on the cleanliness of Leh Nullah every year but the water level rose even after a low rainfall. “It means that the civic agencies have failed to remove the hurdles properly which would block the water flow in the nullah,” he said.
The MPA said his party would launch a campaign if the civic agencies failed to shift the nomads to a safer place.
Former PML-N MNA Malik Shakil Awan was also in favour of providing an alternative space to the homeless people.
He said the government should vacate the area but after providing an alternative space to the dwellers of the katchi abadi.
“There is a need to vacate all the katchi abadis along the banks of Leh Nullah but not leaving the dwellers homeless. The government will look into the matter and help the poor and save their lives,” he added.
Rawal Town Municipal Officer Sardar Tashfeen told Dawn that the RTMA had removed all the katchi abadis from the banks of Leh Nullah. “I will check the area and take precautionary measures to save the lives of the dwellers of the slum during the monsoon season,” he said.
He said the civic body had served notices on those who lived along the Leh Nullah and warned them about flashfloods in case of heavy rains.