KARACHI: In late 2005, a meeting was called by the then commander V Corps, Lt Gen Syed Athar Ali Shah. Aside from a select group of officers in uniform who were present on the occasion, several officials from the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) had also been summoned. They included, among others, the then nazim Mustafa Kamal, municipal commissioner Lala Fazalur Rahman, as well as Bilal Manzar and Mazhar Khan of the katchi abadi and land departments.

According to a source present at the meeting, the CDGK officials were given a dressing-down because they were creating “problems” for the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Karachi, whose executive board is headed by the commander of the Karachi-based V Corps. “It was a typical case of the military authorities flexing their muscles to intimidate civilian officials,” said Adil Abbasi, former deputy director katchi abadi (planning) Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).

The particular “problem” the military authorities wanted to address that day was the resistance that some KMC/CDGK officials had been putting up since 20 years against DHA Karachi’s demand to surrender the land earmarked for the development of amenities for Qayyumabad — a katchi abadi situated along Korangi road near the KPT Flyover.

DHA Karachi’s vast interests in real estate have not even spared land designated for amenities; housing authority denies any wrongdoing

Corrupt provincial government officials from the higher bureaucracy with vested interests of their own had colluded to issue a notification acceding to DHA’s demand several months ago on Feb 2, 2005. (The Sindh government’s machinations whereby they obliged the military authorities are detailed later in this story.) But some local government officials were still holding out, unwilling to hand over possession of land that had been allocated for Qayyumabad’s amenities, and this was what had evidently prompted DHA Karachi to bring in the big guns.

The local elections in December last year, however, have spurred Qayyumabad residents to mount a fresh campaign to reclaim the land they say is rightfully theirs. Among them is Shamshad Khan, Qayyumabad union council’s newly elected UC nazim. Son of a veteran local politician, he and his father — as well as other residents of the area — have had run-ins with DHA officials in the past over the acres in contention, which is why DHA had never managed to actually take physical possession of the land.

One of several DHA checkposts along the wall separating the katchi abadi from DHA Phase VII Extension. —Photo by Tahir Jamal/White Star
One of several DHA checkposts along the wall separating the katchi abadi from DHA Phase VII Extension. —Photo by Tahir Jamal/White Star

80-sq yard homes and no amenities

Confined within 109 acres, Qayyumabad katchi abadi is one of the most densely populated and polluted residential areas of the city. It is home to more than 70,000 people — including Pakhtun, Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Urdu-speaking ethnicities, as well as Christians and scheduled caste Hindus — who live in cramped abodes no bigger than 80 square yards that jostle each other for space and have nowhere to expand except vertically. Consequently, illegal construction of multiple floors, with its attendant risks, is common. “As per standard town-planning principles, at less than six square yards per person, the dead in a DHA graveyard have more space than a person living in Qayyumabad,” remarked a former deputy director KMC. According to Mr Shamshad, “There isn’t a single public school here, nor a playground or dispensary”.

Till the late 1960s, Qayyumabad was just another shantytown in Karachi’s south. But its population rapidly swelled between 1968 and 1976 when squatters from near Kala Pul were moved to this large stretch of water-logged land — that lay wedged between Korangi road, Malir River and Manzoor Colony nallah — on the orders of the government (commissioner Karachi) to make room for DHA phases I and II. Its impoverished residents provided unskilled labour for various sectors; for example, as coolies at the railway station, manual workers at the harbour, construction workers at the many upmarket residential localities springing up in the vicinity at the time, etc.

Through the years, the residents of Qayyumabad have consistently

Published in Dawn, August 22nd, 2016


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