An anti-encroachment drive to clear the land earmarked for the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) has begun on Tuesday.
Heavy contingents of police are accompanying the railways administration and the city administration as they began the operation in Liaquatabad, Gharibabad and furniture market. The operation has not started in Gulberg.
Joint Director of Land and Railway Imtiaz Siddiqui had said earlier in the day that the operation would be launched in the furniture market in Karachi's Gharibabad area.
The operation was to begin yesterday, but had been delayed by a day so that people occupying KCR land had time to vacate their shops and homes, Joint Director of Land and Railway Imtiaz Siddiqui had said.
Railways officials along with the district administration — backed by the police — had visited the Gharibabad furniture market yesterday and announced their plan to launch the drive on Tuesday. The operation is expected to conclude within two days' time.
The final notice to traders running businesses on the encroached piece of land proved effective as a large number of people started moving their shops from the area.
"We don't want anyone to suffer any losses," Siddiqui had said, adding that some 1,200 encroachments are intact on the land earmarked for the defunct metro rail system.
The Supreme Court last month issued directions for removal of encroachments from railway lines as well as to clear the land of Pakistan Railways through deputy commissioners concerned.
Following the order, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation planned on clearing encroachers out from about 360 acres of land in the city.
As many as 5,653 illegally constructed structures are expected to be razed during the operation to clear more than 29 acres of KCR land.
So far, more than 3,000 shops have been demolished in different areas of Karachi in the 36 days since the drive began, according to estimates based on information accessed from multiple sources.
Following the outcry against the operation by the business community, the Centre last week decided to file a review petition in the Supreme Court against the anti-encroachment drive.
On his day-long visit to Karachi yesterday, Prime Minister Imran Khan had declared that the government would stand by the people who had fallen victims to the anti-encroachment operation and would not allow exploitation of citizens under the guise of the ongoing drive.
Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar has promised that authorities will relocate shops that had been razed in recent days during the ongoing operation, while the Sindh chief minister has ordered that affectees be compensated.
Authorities, however, have not yet provided a concrete plan for rehabilitation of the displaced people as yet.
Complexities of encroachment
According to researchers at the Karachi Urban Lab (KUL), maps show that the KCR ─ a 29.32km single-track, wide-gauge railway, spanning 16 stations ─ starts from the Drigh Road Station on the Pakistan Railways main line and, after crossing Sharea Faisal short of Karachi airport, it passes through populated areas of Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Gulshan-i-Iqbal, Liaquatabad, Nazimabad, SITE, Baldia, Lyari, Kharadar, Mithadar and finally touches Karachi City Station.
KUL researcher Arsam Saleem, while presenting a study on Saturday titled 'Evictions, dispossessions and urban sprawl in Karachi', said that a total of 4,653 families in 28 different settlements across the city are being forced to move due to the KCR.
According to a 2011 Sindh government study, 70pc of these residents have been living in these settlements for at least 20 years, Saleem said.
Housing demand in Karachi is estimated at 80,000 new units annually, of which the formal sector supplies 32,000 units, while another 32,000 are built in katchi abadis.
Since 75.5pc of the city's residents are classified as poor ─ and constitute the majority of the unmet demand for housing ─ there has been a continuous demand for katchi abadis, the KUL researchers found.
But buying, selling or renting accommodation is not easy either. Citizens are not sure if they are being defrauded and whether or not the schemes they are investing in are legal. KUL ascribes this insecurity to Karachi’s conflicts and the informalisation of the formal sector in housing and development.
"Encroachment is not a poor person looking to save some petty cash. It is a complex network involving government institutions, in an official or unofficial capacity, seeking to reap the rewards of quick land dispensation with none of the risks attached," Saleem said.