KARACHI: “About 30 to 40 per cent of Karachi’s economy is informal, a fact this government ignored when razing all the shops in and around Empress Market while throwing out all the vendors there,” said architect and urban planner Arif Hasan on Friday.

He was speaking at a press conference called by the Urban Resource Centre (URC) along with Joint Action Committee (JAC) of the civil society at the Karachi Press Club.

“The informal economy provides a livelihood to some two million people. And if they encroached upon any place it was because they were living and earning in an unplanned city. There were no proper cargo terminals, bus terminals, toilets, etc, so the people make them on the roads,” he said, explaining: “The vendors took over any spot that they could find because there were no permanent small or retail markets. And as the city grew and places to live became scarce, the katchi abadis also came up.”

Civil society wants to know the real reason behind anti-encroachment drive

“It is sad how the people whose only crime was earning a livelihood were displaced. What happened to them was also against the law because their shops were either leased or rented. Still, they can easily be resettled from where they have been removed,” the town planner pointed out while making some demands.

He demanded that the government share its plan regarding the action. “We demand to know the real reason behind this action,” he said. “We also demand that the ones displaced and deprived of earning a livelihood be rehabilitated and the plan for their rehabilitation be prepared not by the government but a committee of experts, affected people and people-friendly organisations,” he added.

“And we want the government to apologise for what they did. If it doesn’t apologise, these poor people will also not forgive them,” he cautioned.

Anis Haroon, a member of the National Commission for Human Rights, said that it was not the first time that the poor had been swept under the rug.

“Is this the New Pakistan we used to hear about? We had also heard that in this New Pakistan people will not remain jobless or without a roof over their heads. But here they are with their means of earning snatched and because of this they may soon also lose the roof over their heads,” she said.

“When the shops had power, gas and water connections, when they were paying rent, then how can they be seen as illegal?” Ms Haroon asked.

Zulfiqar Shah of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research said that he was an eyewitness to the action.

“I noticed the bulldozers, excavators and trucks all had Bahria Town labels on them. It warrants an investigation,” he said, adding that the treatment meted out to the people was in violation of basic human rights.

“Already there is such a huge problem of joblessness in our country and now we have more people to add to them,” he said.

Lawyer and teacher Abira Ashfaq said that despite it being said that everything was done according to the orders of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, there was a proper process which was to be followed such as public hearings, issuing 90-day notices, etc.

She also said that it was the right of vendors and hawkers to run their businesses whether they run a business for the last 20-25 years or whether they had a 99-year lease of a shop or whether they sold dried fruits by the footpath. “There is no need to focus on what is lawful or unlawful here. Earning a livelihood the way these people were doing was all right,” she added.

Seeta, an effected vendor, said that selling from the footpath they already faced attacks from law enforcers. “They would hurl abuses at us, scold us, beat us and confiscate our baskets and carts. But we would come back after a while because we are proud women, we don’t beg, we earn an honest living,” she said.

“After what happened, it is difficult for us to make two ends meet. We cannot even pay rent for our living quarters. Sooner or later we may also be thrown out of our homes,” she said.

Ibrahim, who had a shop in the Empress Market, said that this was Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s revenge for not getting votes from Karachi. “It is not our fault that they couldn’t win in the elections but they are doing this through the KMC to show us this is what happens when they are not elected in majority,” he said.

Published in Dawn, December 8th, 2018



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