THE administrative machinery was galvanized by the apex court’s order to dismantle and demolish illegal structures in Karachi. In the absence of a proper follow-up plan, the anti-encroachment drive dealt a jarring blow to businesses in the old city bazaars.

Whatever the intent, the campaign ended up disrupting the commodity supply chain and tearing apart the social fabric of the affected localities, exposing the nexus that perpetuated the mindless intrusion of the public space before patrons, on court instructions, started to destroy the structures build under their watch.

According to estimates based on information accessed from multiple sources 3,575 shops have so far been demolished, directly affecting no less than 17,500 workers, if we assume on an average five people tied to each shop. The number of affected people soars to 140,000 on the assumption that each worker has seven dependents.

The absence of a clearly defined administrative hierarchy responsible for managing the megacity and the lack of a workable development plan that matches growing needs leaves the city with insufficient, inefficient basic services and people with no option but to fend for themselves.

“The existence of parallel and often overlapping domains of administrative bodies such as the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), Karachi Development Authority, Cantonment Board, Sindh Building Control Authority, Defence Housing Authority, Water Commission, Commissioner’s office, etc generate a perfect scenario where each entity skirts the burden of responsibility on others for all that is wrong while being quick to lay claim to anything positive,” commented Dr Noman Ahmed, dean architecture faculty, NED University who did not find the anti-encroachment drive fair and just.

The worst hit in the exercise so far have been the pool of several thousand workers whose livelihood vanished with the levelled markets

Some ideas have been floated by independent developers but an alternate plan, oriented to better serve the residents of Karachi, has yet to be worked out by experts who care for the city and its future.

The collective (public and private) financial cost of the anti-encroachment drive appears to be high, though working out the exact quantum was not possible as the campaign is still in progress. The informal nature of the businesses affected, dealing mostly in cash, also blurred the money trail.

It is intriguing, however, that despite the scale of the operation, none of government departments or the relevant provincial ministry, has initiated an exercise to gauge the financial and social cost in a systematic manner.

The business team of Dawn did make an attempt to quantify the cost of the major disruption in the city but did not succeed as the private sector was not forthcoming in sharing the actual monetary details backed with documentary proof.

The cost to the municipal body in terms of rent collected from shops in multiple demolished markets is measly but the loss to the private sector, according to their claims, runs in hundreds of millions. It includes losses incurred by suppliers and wholesalers, contractors of services and transporters.

The worst hit in the exercise so far have been the pool of several thousand workers whose livelihood vanished with the levelled markets. Many still turn up at the site of the demolished bazaar each day like regular visitors in a graveyard. Many shop owners, however, are said to be negotiating with the government for an alternate site to start afresh.

The mayhem, created by the activity with gigantic earth-moving machinery and huge dumpers clearing debris, has affected the flow of customers even in regular markets in the old city area.

“The informal nature of bazaars, their operators and scores of support services that sustain the activity on a massive scale, makes projecting the public and private financial loss next to impossible. If someone is to quantify the loss to business since the drive started last month it would easily run in billions of rupees,” commented Rafique Jadoon, a leader of traders at the Bolton Market.

Saeed Ghani the provincial minister of local bodies and Katchi Abadis (illegal townships), Wasim Akhtar the Mayor of Karachi and Iftikhar Ali Shallwani the Commissioner Karachi, separately confirmed to Dawn that some proposals to adjust the evicted shopkeepers at alternate sites are under consideration but they have not initiated any exercise to calculate the collective cost of the drive.

Wasim Akhtar, explaining the background and the progress of the drive to the Dawn team in his office mentioned limitations posed by the low budget for the gigantic task the mayor’s office has been entrusted with. He mentioned several services where he was forced to depend on financial help from his personal contacts.

Responding to a question on the presence of Bahria Town equipment and loaders on the sites of the drive he informed that it had been requisitioned by him.

“After the court order I was caught in a very difficult situation as the KMC lacked resources and required earth-moving machinery. With the pressure of a close deadline mounting (the Supreme Court gave three weeks time to submit the compliance report) I called up Malik Riaz (the owner of Bahria Town) for help and he obliged. It was all voluntary work on his part. I did not pay a penny, even the bill of diesel used in machinery was paid by him.”

The mayor denied cutting any deal with the property tycoon in exchange for his largesse. “Though I opposed him tooth and nail on the Kothari bypass issue he has always been kind and responded warmly to my calls in times of distress.”

Mr Wasim candidly admitted that all past set-ups including ones dominated by his party did not serve the city well. He mentioned inadequate water, sewage and public transport systems in particular in this regard.

“To be fair no one walked the talk for betterment of Karachi. I believe that the PTI government genuinely wants to improve the city and its physical and social infrastructure. Unfortunately they don’t understand the city well enough to actualise their good intentions,” he said.

“Illegal acquisition and trespassing can’t be condoned. We will have to live and work by the law,” the commissioner Karachi opined.

The commissioner assumed charge barely days before the anti-encroachment drive kicked off. He was clearly feeling elated at being part of the team implementing an order that he said had been deferred six times earlier for fear of retaliation.

“There were several instances where lawful tenants encroached upon land around their shops and sublet the place to different parties at a rate of their liking. The shop owners are not poor by any stretch of the imagination.

“Believe it or not many have already set up their shops in better localities like a few pet sellers who have now rented shops near Gizri bridge, a place closer to their customer base in the elite Defense area,” said Mr Shallwani. Mohammad Ali, a shopkeeper based in Empress Market told Dawn that a month before the operation a small shop changed hands for hefty Rs8.5m.

“Plans are afoot to make alternate arrangements for effected shopkeepers,” Mr Shallwani reconfirmed. On the issue of workers rendered unemployed he was not bothered. “God will guide them to earn their living if not here someplace else,” he dismissed concerns in this regard.

Despite the depth, width and the scale of the operation the reaction of the affected people was muted. No riot or violence was reported. The Karachi commissioner believes that ejected shopkeepers know that they have no legal standing and therefore instead of confrontation they have adopted conciliatory stance to make most of an uncomfortable situation.

Saeed Ghani, the relevant minister and an emerging leader of the PPP in Karachi was confident that the relative peace was his doing. “People trust me as a credible person on their side. They know I will not ditch them and try to do all in my power to help them out. I am in touch with all groups, parties and associations,” he said with a smile while narrating anecdotes of the PPP leadership praising him for his performance.

While the affected people approached by the Dawn team raised all kinds of suspicions regarding the drive, all leaders and officials reached insisted that the decision and its implementation has been perfectly even-handed. “It‘s hard to be convinced unless the biggies also get ejected from ill-gotten land,” commented Abdul Rehman another affected shop owner.

If the blueprint for the rehabilitation of the torn-down shops of Empress Market is anything to go by, arithmetic is clearly not a strong suit of the city bureaucracy.

The KMC demolished 3,575 shops in and around Empress Market at the end of October. The drive led to a public outcry, forcing the authorities to pledge that all tenants of the KMC would be resettled in other markets.

According to an official handout, the municipal body has agreed to rehabilitate 1,470 shops in eight of its other markets. As for the rest of the 2,105 shops, the KMC has sought help from the Sindh government to provide space. But the KMC has double-counted as many as 640 shops, casting the mathematics of the entire exercise in doubt.

The handout shows Parking Plaza at Lines Area and the plot in front of it as the KMC’s own property that would accommodate 240 and 400 shops, respectively. But the second handout shows the KMC requesting the Sindh chief minister to transfer the same two properties to it, categorising them as the “remaining 2,105 shops required” for rehabilitation.

When contacted by Dawn, the mayor’s office said the ownership status of the two properties is unclear and that’s why the chief minister’s approval has been sought. It had no answer for why they had been categorsied under “remaining shops” except that “auctions at all markets owned by the KMC have been stopped till the afectees have been accommodated on a priority basis” and that “surveys are being conducted”.

Published in Dawn, The Business and Finance Weekly, December 10th, 2018


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