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What are the consequences of the anti-encroachment drive?

Mayor says work to stop if court rules in favour of citizens but shopkeepers probably won't return to Empress Market.
Updated Mar 12, 2019 01:03pm

Platitudes overshadow consequences of Karachi anti-encroachment drive

By: Afshan Subohi

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.

Read more: Anti-encroachment drive: Govt asked to take experts, affected people on board on rehabilitation plan

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.

Blueprint for rehabilitation

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 categorised 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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'KMC to suffer Rs42m loss'

By: Zahra Anum

In one sense the anti-encroachment drive has been a good thing since it focused on an unaddressed, long standing issue. A clear message has now been sent that everyone must live by the law.

Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar.
Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar.

Before the drive commenced the traders and associations were already on board. The labourers are the ones who are actually suffering because of the drive but we haven’t made any plans for them yet. We suppose the labour will go where the shops will eventually settle.

We’ve had meetings and have made committees that have also had meetings. We’ve planned to accommodate the affected in different markets. Of the total 3,575 shops affected to date, KMC has identified space for a total of 1,470 shops and requested the Sindh chief minister’s approval for land to adjust the rest.

Since the drive has started there has been a substantial loss to multiple stakeholders including the government (in terms of revenue). While there has been no exercise to determine revenue loss for businesses, the loss to the government has been around Rs41.7 million. An estimation of total economic loss should be made.

We have also started rehabilitation work at night, but finances are an issue. The KMC has limited capacity. We just know what that this work needs to be done. The debris needs to be picked. A report needs to be submitted.

The rumours that this drive has been funded by the World Bank need to be dismissed. This is an independent project started because of court directives. The World Bank’s Karachi project is a separate one with the Sindh government.

If a court order comes in favour of the people after the prime minister’s request for review then the work will stop. But because of the extent to which the work has already been done the people probably won’t return to Empress Market. The shopkeepers will now go to a place that shall be theirs by law and no one will be able to move them from there.

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

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Evictions: A by-product of urban policy failure

By: Nasir Jamal

The ongoing campaign against encroachments in Punjab has surprisingly attracted only muted public censure. While the officialdom customarily looks at the drive as a set of mere statistics — how many structures demolished, and quantity and price of real estate ‘freed’ from illegal occupation — a large majority of the people have also largely disregarded its ‘anti-poor bias’.

In Lahore, for example, the city administration says it has recovered almost 870 acres of illegally occupied state land worth Rs22 billion, and knocked down 7,551 structures and 2,214 temporary encroachments since Oct 2. But it has no record of how many low-income or poor families lost the roof over their heads or their livelihoods because of the drive.

The human impact of the drive is never documented because the families evicted from their homes and micro-businesses bulldozed in the last couple months are not a priority for the ruling elite. Nor is a distinction made by the administration — and even by people at large — between the powerful land mafias and the needy who encroach upon public or private property to shelter their families or feed them.

Little wonder then that the government has no plan to resettle the affected households or compensate poor vendors for their losses and people haven’t reacted strongly enough against recent evictions in the name of the anti-encroachment drive.

The former Planning Commission of Pakistan deputy chairman Dr Nadeemul Haq, who has long been a vocal critic of a strong anti-poor bias in the country’s urban development and policymaking, terms the whole exercise as targeted against poor people. “Don’t (the bureaucrats) notice encroachment (of the state and private property) by the influential and the wealthy? Why can’t no one see the large structures raised and streets closed by the bureaucracy and affluent people (in the name of security)?,” he asks.

Pakistan like many underdeveloped and developing countries, has a long history of powerful mafias illegally occupying state and private property, particularly in urban areas, with the connivance of police, bureaucracy and politicians for resale or for real estate development. (In certain cases, as pointed by Dr Haq, the state itself encroaches upon open spaces like parks and roads earlier marked for public use in the name of development or security.)

But most urban planners warn policymakers against likening such mafias with cases in which low-income and poor people ‘encroach’ upon public or private land because of their housing and occupational needs.

Such ‘encroachers’ may occupy a property for periods ranging between just a few weeks to several years until they move to another place voluntarily or get evicted by the owners with or without the use of force. Growing urban slums and shanties, and roadside vendors and hawkers, they point out, are classic examples showing how the urban poor meet their housing and livelihood requirements by encroaching on available spaces.

Gulzar Haider, the dean of architecture at the Beaconhouse National University in Lahore, argued that protection of the people’s right to shelter and livelihood should always be a priority for a government. “Nothing is more inhuman than taking away shelter from the poor and vulnerable, and trashing their livelihoods. It is the state’s responsibility to provide the affected families alternate housing and compensate them for their business losses.”

Apart from social and economic reasons that lead to temporary encroachments, experts blame weak governance, lack of political will, poor implementation of building laws, delays by the judiciary in adjudication of cases and lack of punitive action against encroachers for rising cases of permanent illegal occupation of the state and private real estate by land mafias.

“(Encroachments, permanent or temporary) represent a complete breakdown of urban governance and planning,” insisted leading architect Kamil Khan Mumtaz. “If we had a strong local government in place we wouldn’t be witnessing this situation today.”

Dr Haq agrees. “Encroachments are essentially a by-product of urban policy’s focus on housing for the rich at the expense of the economic, educational, recreational, health, livelihood and other needs of the common people.”

Mr Haider said the problem of land grabbing could not be addressed without proper implementation of the law, punitive action against powerful mafias, strong surveillance system at the local level and public support.

“The needs of the poor to low-income (temporary) encroachers can be dealt only through implementation of an equitable approach towards organised and inclusive urban development and planning. It is time our urban planners start looking beyond the housing and shopping needs of the affluent classes alone. The economic, social and other needs of the poorer segments of the population also require their attention and incorporation in urban development policy.”

Unless the government realises that the poor also need a place to live and earn their livelihood, and make their requirements a part of urban planning, it’ll never be able to control encroachment. The people uprooted from one place today will be compelled to find another tomorrow to encroach.

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

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What does the new buzzword mean?

By: Kazim Alam

Karachi Dry Fruit Store still stands in the left wing of the bulldozer-ravaged Empress Market.

Misty-eyed Shaheen Abbasi, the third-generation owner of the modest establishment, tells me from behind the counter that his family owned two other stalls in the same market until a month ago.

“They razed my two shops to the ground in just four hours,” he says while showing a bunch of receipts to emphasise that his de­molished booths were tax-paying lawful entities.

A victim of the Supreme Court-ordered anti-encroachment drive in and around Empress Market, Mr Abbasi is one of the 17,500 people directly affected by the move that most urban planners have termed disastrous for the city.

One month on, the foyer of the main structure is still strewn with debris of all kinds. The KMC has left concrete, wood, plastic and rotten merchandise from the knocked-down stalls all over the quad. It seems that Bahria Town didn’t fully clean up after the KMC.

“I know the chief justice told them to remove encroachments. But my shops were perfectly legal. They had no right to demolish a legitimate business,” says Mr Abbasi.

From the city mayor to the commissioner and the provincial minister concerned, each government representative denies any wrongdoing in the execution of the apex court judgment.

The court order directed the mayor to simply remove ‘encroachments’ without delving into further details. For example, it did not specify whether rent-paying hawkers operating in semi-permanent stalls counted towards encroachments. The order also lacked any direction for the authorities whether they were bound to relocate the displaced hawkers in adjacent markets.

Even if the KMC was within its rights to unilaterally end the tenancy agreements with the hawkers, urban planners wonder if the state should suddenly take away the source of livelihood from thousands of law-abiding citizens.

“What’s the compelling use for the area that they are supposedly cleaning? Their attempt to restore a 19th-century, pristine version of British Karachi is futile,” says Dr Noman Ahmed of NED University of Engineering and Technology.

“There is no specific definition of a hawker,” he adds. No mapping infor­­mation for the city is available, he says, making it impossible for researchers like him to know exactly what the city managers are up to.

According to Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, extortionists mobilised a monthly bhatta of Rs35 million every month from Empress Market, although the revenue collection from the razed shops was minimal. The fact that the authorities let the extortionists run wild in one of the biggest city markets while collecting a negligible amount in taxes for a long time speaks volumes about the state of governance in Karachi.

The quickness shown by the KMC in removing its tenants is in stark contrast to the little interest it exhibited over the years in raising the rent, which was evidently lower than the going rate in adjacent areas.

Mayor Waseem Akhtar accepts that the KMC facilitated so-called encroachments in the past. “But it has to stop now,” he says. There’s no specific plan to rehabilitate mostly unskilled workers that have become unemployed in the aftermath of the anti-encroachment drive, he adds.

“The root of the problem is that this city has become de-politicised,” says Dr Ahmed of NED University of Engineering and Technology. “There’s no one to speak up for the rights of the people.”

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

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