Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Wednesday granted a two-month extension in the deadline for eviction of illegal occupants from Karachi's Pakistan Quarters after a court-ordered eviction operation resulted in clashes between police and protesters, leaving at least 12 people injured on both sides and over a dozen arrested.
The Supreme Court in July had ordered the eviction within 10 days of alleged illegal occupants from Pakistan Quarters, Martin Quarters, Jamshed Quarters, Clayton Quarters, Federal Capital Area, and other residential areas in Karachi for federal government employees. Since then, heavy contingents of police have attempted to vacate the 'illegal occupants' by force.
As protests against the eviction operation from the federal residential colony went on for the second day on Wednesday, baton-wielding policemen clad in riot gear charged at protesters to push them back and employed water canons to knock them over and keep them at bay.
According to DawnNewsTV, the protesters allegedly pelted stones at police officials in retaliation, and chanted slogans against the government as Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf (PTI) MPA Jamal Siddiqui arrived at the site of the clashes. They appealed to the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar to take suo motu notice of the operation.
A police spokesperson said the protesters had attacked the policemen and pelted them with stones, injuring four personnel identified as Muhammad Rizwan, Munir Ahmed, Zaman Abbas and Tanvir Ahmed. He added that the wounded policemen had been transported to a hospital for medical treatment.
Officer Shamael Riaz told The Associated Press that police tried to remove the protesters' barricades and also used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd but later pulled back under orders.
He said over a dozen protesters were arrested for obstructing police efforts to carry out the eviction orders.
MQM-P leaders Farooq Sattar, Kanwar Naveed Jamil and Amir Khan were among the first political leaders to arrive at Pakistan Quarters, where they expressed solidarity with the protesters. They demanded the evictions be halted and that the CJP take notice of the incident.
Sindh Chief Minister Murad Shah, taking notice of the clashes, had ordered the immediate withdrawal of police from the area and expressed anger over the reports of police action against protesters.
Explaining his decision while speaking to journalists, CM Shah said he had intervened in the matter since it was the Sindh government's obligation to maintain law and order. He added that he would consult the provincial Law Department, advocate general and administration ─ and approach the top court if necessary ─ in order to find a resolution to the "humanitarian" issue.
Additional Inspector General Dr Ameer Sheikh confirmed that the court-ordered operation had been halted on the orders of the Sindh government, a police spokesperson told Dawn, adding that ambulance services, volunteers and other relief agency officials were present at the site of the incident.
Although Sindh Governor Imran Ismail claimed in a tweet that the CJP had "kindly consented to hold the evacuation process for three months", the top judge in court granted an extension of two months for resolution of the issue.
Attorney General for Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan in a written request to the CJP at the Supreme Court today maintained that since the eviction operation could infringe upon human rights, the court should give some time for an amicable resolution of the issue. Subsequently, Justice Nisar granted an extension of two months for resolution of the issue.
Speaking to the media, Governor Ismail said that the federal Housing Ministry and other departments would try to put their heads together to resolve the issue and reach an amicable settlement in which the writ of law is upheld and adequate arrangements are made for the displaced persons. "I feel alternate housing will be the solution," he said.
The police spokesperson said that a committee ─ comprising the Deputy Inspector General (DIG) Crime Investigation Agency (CIA) Amin Yousufzai and DIG East Amir Farooqi ─ would be set up to probe the incident.
According to an Express Tribune report, a report submitted in court by the deputy attorney general said that some 4,168 government quarters have been illegally occupied, of which 639 houses are in Martin Quarters, 301 in Patel Quarters, 49 houses in Garden and Pakistan Quarters.
A petition had earlier been filed seeking eviction of families living in these areas for decades even after the retirement or death of an allottee — a government servant to whom a quarter is allotted. Once a government employee retires or leaves the job, he or she has six months to vacate the home.
After this, residents of these neighbourhoods met and pleaded their case with CJP Nisar. Some said that they had been gifted the quarters after their retirement, while others said they were still government employees and had the legal right of living there.
All were then asked to produce documents by July 31 to prove that they were living there rightfully.