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A message for Lahore

Published Jul 02, 2006 12:00am

Ardeshir Cowasjee

THE Manghopir Road runs through the Lyari area of the great metropolis of Karachi and just off it lies a 1016-acre amenity plot, a sewage farm, known by all familiarly and lyrically as the Gutter Baghicha. It has also been referred to as ‘Municipal Gardens.’ It is classified as land to be used for municipal services, including sewage treatment plants, oxidation ponds, sludge ponds, pumping stations and main trunk sewers.

Over the years, with the administration of Karachi and its land mafia being what they are, some 1,000 acres of these gardens have been encroached upon by various individuals, factories, workshops and katchi abadis.

In January 1993, an application was made to the then Karachi Municipal Corporation by a body known as the KMC Officers Cooperative Housing Society (KMC-OCHS) for the allotment to them of 200 acres of the Gutter Baghicha on which a housing colony could be built. This enterprising private society comprises KMC officers, businessmen, and government officials.

True to form, in March that year the land requested was allotted by the local government minister (at the rate of Rs.10 per square yard). The chief minister’s approval was sought and on the way up the chief secretary Sardar Ahmad (then a good civil servant, now a nondescript politician of Sindh’s ruling coalition, the credentials of which are well known) noted his opposition to the allotment of amenity land for a housing society. His notation either never reached the chief minister or it was ignored, and on August 19 the deal was sealed with 200 acres being handed over to the ‘officers.’

On August 23, our battling NGO, Shehri, filed a Human Rights Case in the Supreme Court (6-K/93) challenging the conversion of part of the Gutter Baghicha for residential/commercial/industrial purposes. On August 28 the Supreme Court passed an order restraining the KMC from transferring in any manner any portion of the gardens.

However, in 1994, in violation of the court’s order, over 400 sub-leases were registered. The KMC-OCHS and its official and non-official cronies made attempts to start construction, but for one reason or another they did not succeed. Several officials of the present CDGK administration, including EDO(Law) Manzoor Ahmed, are members of the KMC-OCHS — a classic example of a conflict of interest.

One member of Shehri, a Lyari man by birth, who runs a computer training institute in that deprived area, is Nisar Baloch, one of our few ‘human rights activists.’ He has actively pursued the Gutter Baghicha matter and made a thorough nuisance of himself with the administration. Early this year, the Supreme Court once again took up Shehri’s petition together with a contempt application filed against the KMC (now the City District Government Karachi) officials.

Coincidentally, on April 11, Baloch, together with five companions, went to meet the Mauripur Nazim. After the meeting, as he was on his way back home, he received a number of calls on his cell phone from the SHO, Pak Colony, tracking his whereabouts as he moved. As soon as Baloch entered the Pak Colony he and his companions were arrested.

They were taken to the Anti-Industrial Crime Unit Cell at Garden Head Quarters, headed by SP (in plain clothes). In fifteen minutes’ time everyone except Baloch was released. The next day his family was allowed to see him at the Garden HQ. Amber Alibhai of Shehri got in touch with Senator Nisar Memon in Islamabad and asked him to help, which he immediately did by writing to the Inspector-General of Police, Sindh, asking him to look into the matter of the illegal detention. He received no reply. Shehri also contacted Capital City Police Officer Niaz Ahmed Siddiqui requesting him to help.

On April 14, the family was informed by the SP that Baloch would be released in two days’ time and he gently suggested that they cease asking people for help as it would get them nowhere. He cited the example of Ummat (a daily newspaper of Karachi) which for three years had written solidly against him to no avail and without at all affecting his position.

The IGP and Senator Memon both contacted the family and told them not to worry. On April 15, when Ms Alibhai rang the office of the CCPO for further information on Baloch’s detention, she was informed by his PSO that their office was not concerned with the matter. Apparently the SP had told the IGP that his office premises were being used by the Military Intelligence and that instructions had been received to keep Baloch in detention.

On April 16 and 17 various reports on Baloch’s arrest and detention appeared in the national press. On April 18, spirited Mrs Baloch informed the SP that the women of Lyari intended to sit and block the Mauripur Road until her husband was released. Nisar Baloch was released from custody that night at 2300 hours without any charge having been made against him. Since his release, he has received several threats and wisely has restricted his movements and does not venture out without a companion.

On June 7, Shehri received a letter from the office of the IGP informing them that Baloch had not been arrested.

The following remark has been recorded in one of the cases lying in the cabinets of the High Court of Sindh :

“That the CDGK is not implementing the directions of President Pervez Musharraf, given on 28/5/2002, to establish a citizens’ park on Gutter Baghicha. The CDGK/KMC has been conducting all kinds of ‘noora-kushti’ without achieving anything substantial to address the relevant issues......”.

History records that Sir Robert Montgomery, Lieutenant Governor of Punjab (1859-65), used to ride along The Mall and order that it be realigned if he found one tree blocking its planned route. But then, he was a member of a team of empire builders, not a member of the lethal clan of Gujrat now trying to destroy what is left of Jinnah’s Pakistan.

The destructors of Karachi firstly commercialise a residential area and allow high-rises to be built. They then find there is no parking space for the chaotic traffic and so try to take over parks and playgrounds and any open amenity spaces. So the ‘noora-kushti’ continues on and on.

Lahore should be grateful that Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry has taken suo motu notice of the planned massacre of some 10,000 trees and an enormous acreage of Canal Park land. The citizens must alert their rear-guard commanders. Young lawyers, Mansoor Ali Shah and Rafay Alam, and young architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz, who have spearheaded the ‘Lahore Bachao Movement’ should not be deprived of their liberty.

e-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk