Footprints: Digging for gold in Karachi

Published March 25, 2014
An excavator digs earth near the Jehangir Kothari Parade on Monday. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/ White Star
An excavator digs earth near the Jehangir Kothari Parade on Monday. — Photo by Fahim Siddiqi/ White Star

Driving straight on from Do Talwar on Shahrah-i-Iran one is stopped in one’s tracks by a steel traffic barrier bearing the banner ‘Bilawal Chowrangi’. This, quite clearly, is not Bilawal Chowrangi, but the sudden digging up of the road has obviously resulted in unexpected confusion, hence the wrong barrier at the wrong place.

Thereon either take a left or a right, or go ahead and find yourself plunging into a trench. The not-so-bright have to be told by the traffic constable to make the diversion — “Sahab, aage raasta bund hai!” — as the others turn towards either of the two diversions while the less adventurous turn around and go back home.

Welcome to Clifton where heavy-duty diggers dig away. The traffic management project comprising one flyover and a couple of underpasses is expected to take some four months to complete.

“Well, of course it will hurt business,” says a shopkeeper in Park Towers which can only be reached through the back lanes now. “Yes, it is causing difficulty and inconvenience at the moment. But there is light at the end of the tunnel, for once completed, the project will have walkways and a food street while the traffic will go through the underpasses or over the flyover,” says another shopkeeper in the same mall. Given the breadth of his knowledge, he is asked if he has seen the construction plan. He shakes his head. “I’ve just heard,” he smiles sheepishly.

Like the shopkeeper, residents of the area, too, are upbeat about the whole affair. “I’m a heart patient thinking of selling my flat and distributing the money among my children and two wives, but I think I will wait for the project to be completed now before I put my place up on the market,” says a resident of the area.

“Yes, we are hearing about the project being taken up by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation very suddenly and without considering environmental issues or getting no-objection certificates from departments concerned. But there was an ad in the paper with the map a few days ago. Looks good!” says a property consultant in Clifton while pointing out that all this work was in fact being done to deal with the expected traffic congestion due to the Bahria Town Icon Tower.

“Besides, these things take a back seat once you weigh the prospects. This is prime land. There are several housing and commercial projects coming up in the area. A house built on 500 yards here is worth around Rs40 million. It will definitely go up by 10 to 20 million after the completion of the project. Similarly, the apartments in Bahria Town Icon Tower are already worth Rs30 million each. They, too, would go up to Rs50 million at least.

Up ahead on the prime land are located the historical Jehangir Kothari Parade and the Shri Ratneshwar Mahadev temple, and Bagh-i-Ibn-i-Qasim beyond it. The walkway along the Jehangir Kothari Parade is mostly dug up. Politicians woke up to the alarm raised by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan earlier about the danger to the more than 150-year-old temple that’s built in a tunnel, and diverted the digging from the area around the temple.

“The temple committee held a meeting here and we have been assured by the government that no harm will come to the temple and the bagh and the digging work will only take place around it,” says one gentleman associated with the temple, requesting anonymity. “What choice do we, the minority, have? This is good enough for us for now.”

The weekend crowd in Clifton got an unexpected shock to see all the work under way. “What’s all this? When did this happen?” a couple with two kids on a motorcycle wonder aloud before turning around in the direction of Shireen Jinnah Colony.“I’m sick and tired of explaining to every passerby what’s going on here. What can I tell them? I don’t know for sure myself. There is obviously some work going on. They’re not digging for gold, obviously!” grumbles another traffic constable on duty on Shahrah-i-Firdousi.

Aren’t they?

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