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Karachi and its parks

March 04, 2007


ON the evening of February 28 the following message arrived in my mailbox: “Page No.8, February 28, Daily Qumi Akhbar, Karachi. Arad Sher Kawasji: Please some admiration of City Nazim and Governor of Sindh too. In the opening Ceremony of Ibne-e-Qasim Bagh in Karachi President General Pervez Musharraf addressed to prominent columnist Arad Sher Kawasji that I don’t know either his present or not in this opening ceremony.

“He writes about many things in his columns. I request him today at the occasion of opening ceremony of this park to write something positive because foundation of this park has been laid by the forefathers of Parsi community and admire City Nazim and Governor of Sindh for completion of this park.”

It came from young Rizwan Edhi, the nephew of the greater and good Edhi, that ever helpful man.

No, I was not present, General, having not been invited to the grand opening. But my community and I are most appreciative that you, the First of Pakistan, were good enough to remember and acknowledge the munificence of our forbears. It was 100 years ago that Sir Jehangir Hormusji Kothari demolished his house atop the Clifton hill and on his land thereon built and bequeathed to the people of Karachi the magnificent pavilion, parade and pier which still stand. Then, inspired by him, another Parsi benefactor, Sir Kavasji Hormusji Katrak, built and gave to the people the grand bandstand which looms over the cliff.

To register some positive remarks, the next morning I telephoned the city nazim, young Mustafa Kamal (known affectionately as Mustafa Khudai, as he digs and digs gutters and roads and moves on without refilling the gaping holes). He was not available. I left a message. I then went off to see the director of parks, my old friend Liaquat Ali who I have interacted with over park matters for many a year. He has progressed from his old KMC days and now calls himself Liaquat Ali Khan, claims descent from a family of jagirdirs, and wears nothing but silk. I duly congratulated him on the part he had played in laying the park and in getting rid of encroaching buildings (except for Asif Zardari’s ‘Costa Livina’).

The general is quoted in the press as having also said at the grand opening that “spaces set for parks must not be allotted for any other purpose.” Reportedly he also “directed the governor, chief minister and city nazim to convert this city into a city of parks.”

Having written two columns (Feb 18 and 25) on the ongoing saga of Kidney Hill, a designated park area lying between Shaheed-e-Millat and Karsaz Roads, I do not wish to be repetitive. This area has been the subject of much litigation for the past two decades with regard to attempts to convert portions of it into a housing society.

Governor Ishratul Ibad is well aware of what has been happening in the current case of the Kidney Hill area (CP 160/07), of the intimidating threats to petitioners in the high court of Sindh and of other concerned citizens, of the various methods of “persuasion” employed, and that is why on March 1 he met 10 citizens to discuss the matter. Represented at this meeting were members of the NGO Shehri, one of the petitioners in the high court, representatives of the Helpline Trust, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, the Reformers and the Institute of Architects of Pakistan.

The MQM parliamentary leader in the National Assembly, Dr Farooq Sattar, a former mayor of Karachi and well versed in the background of the 62-acre Kidney Hill flew down from Islamabad. He confirmed that originally the area was notified as a park and recreation area, that it had for ever been a contentious matter with various parties and groups wrangling over it and attempting to grab it, and admitted that even as mayor, and later as a senior minister, he was unable to develop the park for public benefit because of opposition from interested parties and the cases in court.

The governor enlarged on his part the rather dubious settlement last year of the dispute and the compromise reached based on “ground realities” (as opposed to on the law) - the award of 20 acres of land to the Overseas Cooperative Housing Society for residential plots, with 10 additional acres of roads, all ultra vires of the law and despite the fact that the park area was in the protective custody of the nazir of the high court. The justification for this was the usual, that two wrongs making one right - over the years, seven acres of Kidney Hill had already been misappropriated - or rather “grabbed”.

The publicity given to this matter has done some good - all is not yet lost. The governor has ordered an investigation into the matter of the intimidation tactics and threats and has given his word that he will take all necessary measures to protect the lives, families and properties of those who have been “threatened”.

He has also agreed to have the park “settlement” re-examined by the government, this time round involving the residents of the area, concerned citizens, and the concerned lawyers to resolve the issue and save the park. In the meantime, hearings of the citizens’ petition will proceed in the high court.

After the governor’s meeting on Thursday, Amber Alibhai, Shehri’s general secretary, again received a “threatening” phone call. This time, the issuer of threats related all that had transpired at the governor’s meeting, and told Amber that he could e-mail to her photographs of her children and tell her exactly what they did where and when. She was told to expect the “worst” if the petition was not withdrawn from the court.

Thereupon the Shehri office-bearers hurriedly met and instructed their lawyer, Barrister Mohammad Gilbert Naimur Rahman, as follows:

“Re: Withdrawal of Kidney Hill Case, CP 160/2007. After much deliberation, we, the managing committee members, are instructing you to withdraw the above case. The reasons are threats of kidnapping and murder made to us and our families, involvement of false cases instituted on 22 February 2007 in the lower court, the day the threatening calls began. We have been advised by all our well-wishers that it is simply impossible to stop these threats from being carried out. Too much money is involved in this deal. We do not wish to jeopardise our families and their lives. Thank you for your continued support.”

It is signed by Mrs Amber Alibhai, Roland de Souza, chairperson, Dr Syed Raza Ali Gardezi, vice chairperson and Khatib Ahmed, member - all of Shehri-CBE.

The honourable judges of the high court may allow Shehri to withdraw and decide to continue to adjudicate the matter.

Should the president happen to read this, would he kindly ensure that law and order prevails in his domain.

Note: Yesterday’s issue of Dawn carried a letter to the editor under the caption ‘Kidney Hill’ sent in by Captain (army, navy, merchant marine?) Aijaz Haroon, the honorary secretary of the Overseas Cooperative Housing Society. He alleges that what I have written on the matter is “baseless”. Is he prepared to allow the learned judges to decide?