At 85, Sardar Bibi, bent double and stone deaf, has no idea that she may well be forced to leave her one-room abode that has been her home for the last 63 years to make way for the Karachi Circular Railway track.
“It will kill her!” her 50-year-old daughter, also a widow, told Dawn.com.
News of the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), a public rail transport system, has been met with fears of being evicted from those living along the railway tracks in Kashmir Mujahid Colony. They say they are not encroachers since they have bought the land by people who said they owned the Pakistan Railways (PR).
This informal settlement developed on four acres of railway land near the Clifton Bridge and within the jurisdiction of Civil Lines Police Station, comprises a population of over 2,000, and is among the 26 clusters situated on the route of the to-be revived Karachi Circular Railway. The colony people fear they may soon be relocated.
The colony has yet to be regularised despite being a declared one much before 1985 and its residents should have been given legal title as per the Sindh Katchi Abadi Act (SKAA), say the area people.
Every time, there is talk of revival of the KCR and turning it into a modern commuter service, the communities coming in the way of the tracks, comprising no less than 40,000 people, develop renewed fears of being evicted. This ‘on again, off again’ plan for revitalisation of the KCR has been going on for years. The revival lurches from one decision to another.
But Ejaz Khilji of the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation is very clear that none of the residential colonies which he calls “squatters” coming in the way of the KCR, on PR land can be regularised as per the SKAA. “Any land required by PR for laying transportation or power transmission lines can be acquired at any point in time.”
Karachi, home to an estimated 18 million people does not have a mass transit system. In its absence, this 43.12 km rail transit system aims to ease the lives of 500,000 or so daily commuters.
According to news reports, the urban commuter railway line will be revived at a whopping cost of Rs128 billion, 93 per cent of which is being provided by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) as a soft loan with 0.2 per cent interest repayable in 40 years. The remaining 6.3 per cent, will be borne by the Government of Pakistan.
“If everything goes well, the loan agreement will be signed as early as June this year,” Khilji told Dawn.com.
Noor Mohammad, 75, a railway employee, is among the first oldest residents to have found shelter back in 1947. “This house belonged to a Hindu family and when they left, we just occupied it,” he said. “There were just a handful of hutments back then,” he recalled.
Walking about the narrow alleys, past the dry cleaners, the tailors, the pharmacy and the general store, you get a feeling of camaraderie. Everyone knows everyone. “I grew up here and I know how safe it is,” remarked Amna Khalid, 23, who walks to a nearby college every day.
“Even when all of Karachi is up in arms, our colony remains calm,” said Mohammad Siddiq. “So if we are evicted we will be scattered and these relationships built over decades will end,” he rued.
Sharifan Bibi, 70, insists the biggest asset is the “peace” that is found in the colony.
“Most people will tell you they have all the facilities like enough water, gas and electricity, but if you ask me, the biggest asset here is harmony. It’s a safe and secure neighbourhood; our children roam about without any fear,” said the septuagenarian.
Khilji also said over 250 acres had been acquired in Shah Lateef Town near the Juma Goth station, where residents of over 4,653 households, coming in the way of the KCR, will be relocated. An 80-square-yards plot and Rs50,000 minimum would be given to each household, besides providing other civic amenities in the new township, including schools, hospitals, parks, playgrounds etc.
“Our foremost concern is to add sustainability to this revival,” said Khilji, adding: “We have taken the communities on board, addressed their concerns and reservations.”
According to him, no other mega project in the past in which people’s lives were going to be affected had “so much interface” as was done in the case of KCR’s revival.
And yet people are not happy to be relocated.
“I don’t want the money or the plot; I want to live and die here,” said Muzammil Bibi. “In these times of soaring prices, if there is one thing I own is my home, and now even that is being taken from us,” she lamented.
But there are pragmatic people like Mohammad Tariq who say if they have to be forced out, “at least move us within the two kilometer radius so it is not too far from our places of work”. He points to an empty area across the colony. “It is vacant and belongs to the railways. So if the railways want us to give up this part to lay the track, then in return they can give us the other tract of land.” he said. He does not understand why they have to be “thrown out in the wilderness”.