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DAWN - Features; January 10, 2006

January 10, 2006

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Karachi turning into a ghetto

By Kunwar Khalid Yunus


I VISITED Mumbai thrice during 2004. Today, it is amongst the world’s top ten most populated metropolitan cities, with large, dirty and irregular settlements. It is also India’s most populous city.

It resembles Karachi in many aspects. Like Karachi it has faced a constant and asymmetrical relocation of rural, socially and culturally diverse groups in its narrow hinterland. One of the major causes for the rise of the Shiv Sena was the change in the city’s demography and urban decay.

The Sindh government has never bothered to study this issue, which is altering the provincial demography and turning Karachi into a major slum. But the Indian state of Maharashtra had realized the demographic transformation of Mumbai as early as in 1955.

They undertook brainstorming exercises for controlling the disorganized populations and ‘jhoper patties’ (illegal settlements). A policy was formulated to encourage migrants to move to other Indian cities.

This way, the pressure on Mumbai was spread all over India. Last year, when I visited Chandigarh, a disgruntled Sikh MP complained about the alarming number of economic migrants from all over India and their social and cultural problems in Indian Punjab.

Now, not one but several Indian states and towns are feeling the massive weight of rural migration to their urban areas. The world’s monetary institutions, as well as the Indian federal government, are helping Mumbai financially to develop apartment sites for squatters after demolishing, phase wise, the miles and miles of jhoper pattis. Now Mumbai is going more vertical than horizontal.

Karachi, already a city of more than 15 million, is facing a similar internal migration problem, with no other province or city to share it. Even Punjab has not bothered to settle its own rural provincial population in its capital or in other cities.

Every month, an estimated 25,000 to 30,000 migrants are settling n Sindh’s capital, mostly on illegally occupied land. For the land mafia in Karachi, every day has been a field day for the last three decades, as 95 per cent of such migrants are settling on katchi abadis.

By very conservative statistics, Karachi today has turned 55 per cent into a katchi abadi. The graph of regular settlements is gradually going down.

This is all thanks to bad planning. There are no provincial or city government town planning schemes and no digital mapping of Karachi’s territorial boundaries, even though there is a liberal issuance of leases to illegalize settlements for political reasons — even on dry riverbeds.

The non-stop encroachments also stem from the fact that there are more than two dozens federal and provincial stakeholders. Besides there are federal government pressures, politics and interference in maintaining the status quo with regard to large and small illegal settlements. Above all. there is an absence of will in enforcing the rule of law.

Organized land mafia, comprising criminals and highly influential political and “religious” entities, are also involved in corrupt practices along with some judicial officials at lower levels.

The sons and nephews and even grandsons of some of Sindh’s highly influential politicians are directly or indirectly involved in highly-prized land grabbing. Federal, provincial and local governments turn a blind eye towards such deeds.

One example of political interference in Karachi is North Nazimabad, where behind its main shopping area of Hydri, a formidable katchi abadi has sprung up.

Every time the provincial or local government has tried to remove this unauthorized settlement and to relocate it, political pressure from powerful Islamabad quarters thwarted the operation. The area is notorious for drug suppliers, criminals, gambling dens and traders of easy virtue.

When in 1997, the city administration rejected all sorts of political pressures, the land mafia, just one day before the eviction, was tipped off by someone. They put some areas of the katchi abadi on fire. Two children died in the fire, and the administration was forced to abandon the plan. There are scores of stories of an identical nature throughout Karachi.

A conservative survey of Karachi’s parks, playgrounds and amenity plots indicates that 35 per cent of the areas concerned have been encroached upon for mosques and madressahs, and another 40 per cent are partially occupied. Only 25 per cent of parks, playgrounds and amenity plots have escaped occupation and are encroachment-free.

Why did such lands survive the encroachers’ wrath? The answer is that the land mafia is reluctant to illegally extend their domain to areas situated in cantonments and the Defence Housing Authority’s jurisdiction. The main reasons for this is prompt, effective and strong law enforcement action there and then.

Land is also grabbed by religious outfits. They make no distinction between lower middle class areas like New Karachi, Liaquatabad, Korangi and Orangi and middle-class North Nazimabad, Gulshan or Federal B Area or the elite’s Clifton, Bath Island or KDA Scheme No.1, or commercial areas like Saddar, Tariq Road, Guru Mandir, Kharadar or Mithadar. Today, Karachi has about 15,000 to 20,000 mosques and a lesser number of madressahs built over encroached land.

To exploit the religious sentiments of the common man, first a mosque is built. Later shops are built around it for commercial gains, then rooms for residential purposes. Electricity in some cases comes from the open ‘kunda’ system.

Karachi needs its land management to function either on the lines of Islamabad’s CDA or on Lahore’s LDA, where the number of katchi abadis is almost zero. Effective land laws, promulgated in some major Indian cities, also need to be studied.

The federal government has to come to the rescue of Karachi in a way seen in Islamabad and Lahore. Both are almost free of katchi abadis. It is the job of the federal government to unburden Karachi by spreading migrants over Pakistan’s major cities.—- The writer is an MNA.