Nahr-e-Khayyam

10 Sep 2006

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IT was long ago, when Karachi was a livable city with a fair share of open spaces remaining to it but already threatened by the high-rise plague, that the plunder and degradation started.

In March 1990, my column on this page recorded that the then minister of housing and town planning, a ‘gentleman’ by the name of Agha Siraj Durrani, one of Asif Zardari’s principal sidekicks, was “intent upon despoiling Karachi with indecent haste, and is extremely busy sanctioning high-rises on plots of land where they have absolutely no right to be, openly defying all the building codes and disregarding completely whether utility amenities and facilities can support them.

“The name of the game is money. His latest targets are the main Clifton road, from the Teen Talwar to the supermarket roundabout, and the delightful poetically named Nahr-e-Khayyam across the road from the Mideast Hospital, which the government had long ago promised would be eventually filled in and used as a parkland — with a jogging track, a children’s playground, gardens, etc. The allotment of the canal land to the favoured has already started against the advice (for once) of the KDA.

“Would the good Governor of Sindh try to put his foot down to earth this time and save something of the benighted Clifton area.”

As is evidenced today, 16 years later, the good governor did nothing of the sort. There was no way he could take on the might of Zardari. The first post-Zia PPP government was in full flow, Benazir had given her husband a free hand — ‘when he speaks, I speak’ — and he was using it to the full and had the bureaucracy and administration suitably tied up in knots.

The 120-foot wide Nahr-e-Khayyam was always intended to remain an open tract of land; it is one of the major lungs of the Clifton area. It is also a major storm water drain purposefully dug and created by the Raj to carry rain and/or tidal water (not sewage) into the open sea. It was ideal land for grabbing purposes, and Zardari ‘fixed’ it with a reluctant but pliable Karachi Development Authority.

In January 1990, by a resolution the KDA decided to appropriate the Nahr to ‘generate additional funds’ and divided it into eight plots. The two corner plots at the two ends of the Nahr were commercial plots, destined for the construction of high-rise commercial and residential complexes and the six plots in between were designated as flat sites. In April, KDA issued a public notice informing the people that the flat sites were to be auctioned. The two commercial plots had already been ‘allotted’.

On May 2, six citizens, all residents of the Clifton area, filed CP D-392/90 in the High Court of Sindh seeking cancellation of the allotments and prohibition of the auction. A second petition, CP 429/90 was filed on May 8, and a third petition, D-433/90, on May 9 against respondents KDA, the Building Control Authority, the ministry of housing and town planning, and a dummy company set up by the Zardari/Durrani duo — Friends Associates.

Hearings of the petitions were adjourned time and again on the request of the KDA counsel, and the KDA meanwhile went ahead merrily auctioning, allotting and transferring the commercial plots and the flat sites to the Zardari front men.

So, on August 20 (the Benazir Bhutto government was dismissed for corruption, etc, on August 6), the citizens filed an amended petition (D-433/90) adding as respondent a second dummy company, Ocean View Limited, involved in the allotment/transfer game. They prayed that all allotments/transfers be quashed, that the conversion of the land use be declared illegal, and that no plans be approved and no approval given for any construction on the Nahr area. A stay was obtained.

Come the Nawaz Sharif first government and President Ghulam Ishaque Khan, for his own good, imported and installed as chief minister of Sindh Jam Sadiq Ali, no mean land grabber himself, and sense was ultimately hammered in. On September 5 1991, the High Court ordered that the three petitions “have become infructuous and they stand disposed of” as the KDA had now had ‘a change of heart’ and had filed a statement in the court declaring that the allotments of the two commercial plots and six flat sites had already been cancelled during the second half of August 1990, all auction bids had been rejected, and that the KDA had no plan or intention to allot any plots on the Nahr-e-Khayyam. Safe for that moment.

We now fast-forward to August 31, 2006, to the Metropolitan section of this newspaper and to the article ‘Why Karachi turned into a cesspool when it rained’. To quote:

“At Schon Circle, where the famous KPT underpass has been designed and built by Nespak, the branch of the Glass Tower nullah that had drained water from Clifton’s Block 8 into the Nahr-e-Khayyam was blocked off during the construction of the underpass. Nespak, in its wisdom, replaced four 24-inch diameter pipes with only one 15-inch pipeline, thus creating a choke point. What happened in Clifton was a disaster waiting to happen....... But the most serious theft that has taken place has been in the 125-feet long (sic. wide) Nahr-e-Khayyam itself. It is being covered as a box drain only 15 feet in width. The remaining 115 feet land along the nullah has already been used for marking plots — eight in the block on the west of Khayaban-e-Iqbal and more on the other side. The EDO, when I asked him about this land scam, vehemently denied it but others provided me the map. It is important that the matter be investigated to establish the truth......”.

Obviously the writer was unaware of the doings of the wily city government. On October 29, 2005, this newspaper carried a Public Notice concerning the Nahr-e-Khayyam which indirectly conveyed that ‘to generate funds’ the CDGK wished to create residential/ commercial plots on or near the Nahr in Block 5 Scheme 5, Clifton. It goes on to say, “Now, therefore, under Article 3-1.1 of the Karachi Building and Town Planning Regulations 2002, objections are hereby invited from public to aforesaid channelisation of Nahr-e-Khayyam and creation of residential/commercial plots within 15 days of the publication of this notice.”

Members of the NGO, Shehri, raised objections and on November 10 it wrote to EDO Attiq Beg asking for information which the master plan offices of the CDGK were bound to supply. Their letter stated :

“Apropos your Public Notice in the press of October 29, 2005, we request you to provide us the following information : 1) copies of the technical justification studies made in the light of the planning of the area (as per regulation 18-4.2.2 of KBTPR 2002, and other town planning laws), including availability of utilities (electricity, water, sewerage, etc), infrastructure (road traffic handling capacity, parking, garbage collection, etc) and amenities (parks, playgrounds,) police stations, hospitals, schools, etc. 2) Data on the present overloading of the above facilities/infrastructure in the residential area and around the proposed conversion. 3) Copy of the environmental impact assessment: carried out in accordance with Item H-1 of Schedule II of Review of IEE & EIA Regulations, 2002, notified under PEPA 1997 (noise, air pollution, utilities, infrastructure, crime, introductions of strangers into the neighbourhood, etc) of the proposed conversion, with public participation.”

Shehri recorded various other obvious objections and said that all the above was required by them to submit detailed and proper objections/comments/ observations. The letter ended : “It would also be pertinent to point out that this scheme is another venture to make millions and to environmentally degrade the city for the pecuniary benefit of a few.”

As was expected, no response was received and subsequent reminders were ignored. No public hearing was held and the CDGK stealthily commenced constructing an inadequate ‘box drain’ in the Nahr.

At the end of July this year the rains came. The KPT’s generous ‘gift’ to the people of Karachi, its wondrous underpass, was converted into a swimming pool, those living within a radius of a couple of kilometres suffered badly and the area was more or less inaccessible to those who had to traverse it to get from their A to their B.

Yesterday’s Dawn carried the City Nazim’s statement concerning the Nahr and related matters. Fortunately he does not ‘vow’ or ‘pledge.’ But he does convey that Chinese contractors have been invited to clean up the nullah and the Nahar.

With all this going on, should we despair? Never.

e-mail: arfc@cyber.net.pk