KARACHI: Search endeavours for an eight-year-old scavenger, who had fallen into Gujjar Nala on Friday evening, proved futile on a second consecutive day, lending credence to the fear about his death.

Rehan, who had been expelled from a seminary for being unable to pay the fee, had attempted to pick a plastic bottle from the garbage dumped in the storm-water drain in Federal B Area’s Block 12 when he fell and drowned.

Municipal administration officials blamed encroachment on Gujjar nullah for the dozens of drownings, with some bodies remaining untraceable, every year.

Rehan’s parents and siblings were informed over the phone about the drowning as they were in Punjab leaving him at the house of his maternal grandparents. Some time back, he was thrown out of a seminary after his father had failed to pay fee to the management of the seminary. Since then he had been scavenging plastic and other material from the garbage in the area. A local junk dealer said he saw the young boy picking a plastic bottle when he slipped and fell into the storm water drain.

His relatives and neighbours, who with the help of Edhi volunteers continued the search on Saturday, pointed the finger at rescue institutions and municipal officials who were conspicuous by their absence after every tragedy. They told the media that heavy machinery was brought to the area whenever anti-encroachment drive was launched, but no such effort was made following a drowning.

Every year many people, mostly children, drowned in the Gujjar nullah, they added.

A mother and her three-and-half-year-old daughter had drowned some four months ago when the Karachi Municipal Corporation (KMC) had demolished a house along the storm water drain in the Gulberg area, they said. While the mother was rescued, the body of her daughter could not be retrieved despite several attempts.

Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) spokesperson Ali Hassan Sajid blamed ‘massive encroachments’ for such tragedies. “Around 20 to 25 people, mostly children, drown in 28-km-long Gujjar nullah every year due to these encroachments and lack of care on parts of parents,” said KMC spokesperson Mr Sajid.

Speaking to Dawn, he said many of these illegally built houses had their doors on the side of the drain, making the families very vulnerable to drowning in the garbage-filled Gujjar nullah.

Regretting over the loss of lives, the KMC official said the authorities had again launched an anti-encroachment campaign some months back. So far, 4,000 illegally built houses and worship places had been demolished, he said.

“A project has been launched to construct a road on both sides of the nullah. Besides travelling facility, it will also help in saving precious lives,” he added.

The official said not only the less privileged but some ‘influential people’, too, had grabbed land on both sides of Gujjar nullah.

Recalling the drowning of the minor girl four months ago, the KMC official said it emerged that the house where she resided along with her family belonged to a police officer who had ‘illegally’ constructed 32 houses on the nullah and rented them out to the less privileged.

Published in Dawn, November 20th, 2016

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