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Who can say? What?

February 27, 2005


Way back in May 1992, 13 years ago, I wrote of an amenity plot, ST-6, Block 7, KDA Scheme 5, planned, designated and gazetted as an open space, a lung of the city, a park in which a monument was to be built, for the good and the use of the people of Karachi. It was under attack by the usual and unusual despoilers of our environment.

The first lot was our bureaucrats who had illegally converted ST-6's land use to construct on it a club for civil servants. It was done quietly, surreptitiously, without advertising or inviting objections from the public as the rules and regulations demand. The first we knew of it was when a photograph in the press appeared of the then chief secretary, Saleem Abbas Jilani, unveiling a plaque at the plot in the presence of a large audience, dedicating it to the building of the club.

The next day his attention was drawn to the fact that he had done wrong, but that wrong could be righted by removing the plaque and shelving it until it could be affixed on to another pedestal on a plot properly designated for a club. This was a tall order, but to his credit, Jilani rose to the occasion, had the plaque removed, and restored the open plot to its original use.

This was not the beginning of the story. Unknown to many, in the meantime another despoiler, a man of the Cloth this time, was doing his very best to get hold of the plot to build upon it a school. His means were also surreptitious. It started in February 1988, when Bishop Anthony Lobo, representing St Michael's School (which stands on an adjacent plot) asked governor of Sindh Ashraf Tabani to allocate the 1.6 acre plot to St Michael's as a playground. The governor was informed by the KDA that the land use could not be converted and the Bishop's request was rejected.

The Bishop persisted. In July 1988, he asked Governor Rahimuddin for the plot, categorically stating that he did not intend to construct a building thereon but would use it as an open playground. The authorities held their ground. The Bishop waited. In July 1989, he disclosed his real intentions and submitted a plan of a proposed building, together with the estimated cost. He was again shot down. He changed tack and in August 1989 asked that the plot be allotted to his school for use as a playground and for further extension of the school. The answer was again no.

Come September 1989, he wrote to prime minister Benazir Bhutto, reminding her that her illustrious father was at kindergarten at St Joseph's Convent and that she herself had studied at another convent.

"Your Excellency," he wrote, "you will agree that parks, playgrounds and gardens are the lungs of a city. Karachi is being turned into a concrete jungle. I humbly appeal to you to save this open ground and to allot it to St Michael's School as a playground and for further extension of the school." The KDA once again turned up trumps and saved the plot.

In May 1990, he tried another method and approached KDA with the request that he be given the plot on a rental basis for use as a playground and a car park so as to safeguard the land 'against encroachers and land grabbers.' In June 1990, he made the same application but added that on expiry of the rental period vacant possession would be handed back to KDA.

In January 1991, he asked that the amenity plot, the open space, be allotted to him for construction of a school. He called it 'amenity educational purposes.' He made a further request in August stating that he would use the plot for 'charitable educational purposes' and to erect on it a monument.

Then, in September 1991, the Bishop, persuaded the old patrician, Jam Sadiq Ali of Sindh, the all powerful chief minister, to order that he be allowed to build a wall around the plot and construct his school. Jam Sahib obliged, and the worthy Bishop enclosed the plot within a majestic wall and proceeded with his plans.

In February 1992, the chief secretary of Sindh, Syed Sardar Ahmed, found his feet and declared that the plot was designated as an open space and must remain as such. The Bishop's building plans were not approved. However, he started excavating, was served with a notice, and work stopped.

The people went to the Provincial Ombudsman asking that the plot be preserved as an open space cum park and in May 1992 the allotment made in 1991 to St Michael's was cancelled.

In June 1992, St Michael's challenged the Ombudsman's order in the Sindh High Court (D-1324/92). In October 1993, the court remanded the case back to the Ombudsman, and in February 1994 he again decided against any construction on the amenity plot.

In March 1994, Bishop Lobo filed a representation before the Sindh governor which was rejected in May.

St Michael's Convent Society then filed a writ petition in the Sindh High Court (CP 2071/94) praying that the allotment be restored and the construction of a school allowed. This petition remains to this day pending in the court.

Papers filed with the petition disclose that St Michael's Convent Society, which owns and runs St Michael's School, is a private society, that the Bishop in his personal capacity and not as a representative of the Church is its chairman/president and that the society is not affiliated or connected in any way with the Catholic Board of Education which owns and operates the older and larger schools of Karachi - St Patrick's, St Joseph's, St Paul's, St Lawrence's and the Convent of Jesus and Mary.

They also illustrate the manner in which this country was run - and is still being run. One example, the orders of chief minister of Sindh Jam Sadiq Ali : "Request at 'A' allowed. A special case and report compliance. No summary required." 'A' is the heading of a letter written to Jam by Bishop Lobo on January 20 1991 : "Request for allotment of Amenity Plot No.ST-6 Block 7 KDA Scheme 5 Kehkashan Clifton." Another order of the Jam's, obviously after the DG-KDA had presented his case : "My previous orders stand good. DG KDA should not take liberties with me. Necessary orders to implement my directives should have been issued without any further delay. The allotment should be made in relaxation of ban under cl.15 of SDPO to St Michael's Convent Society within three days please."

One point I made at that far off time was that it was relatively easy for us all to accept that the Pirs, Mirs and Jams and Jellies of Pakistan, the Nawabs and the Nawabzadas, the Arbabs and the Sardars, plus their brother politicians in arms and the acquiescing bureaucrats would definitely do wrong, would indulge in highly corrupt practices, and we would be neither surprised, nor shocked, nor even grieved, but we did not expect an educationist and a theologian to boot, a Bishop of the Catholic Church, to follow in their footsteps and indulge in land-grabbing tactics.

Little has changed - and that little has been for the worse.