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Evicted traders

January 15, 2019

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THE anti-encroachment drive launched by the KMC late last year upon court orders has elicited a variety of opinions, as hundreds of shops in Karachi’s commercial heart have been demolished and turned to rubble. One body of opinion has welcomed the drive, saying it will open up much-needed space in the city, as encroachments have spread in a haphazard manner and added to the urban sprawl. However, as civil society activists pointed out at a protest outside the Karachi Press Club on Sunday, the drive has also “snatched people’s livelihoods” and affected the working classes disproportionately, particularly daily wagers. Moreover, there is the relevant point that if many of these shopkeepers were paying the KMC rent for decades, how could their establishments be considered ‘encroachments’? To be sure, encroachments cannot be disregarded, particularly the illegal occupation of land, which is a rampant menace across the country. But with the livelihoods of thousands of people on the line, the civic authorities should have carried out the drive in a better planned, gradual manner.

Firstly, the shopkeepers ought to have been given more time before the drive began. Secondly, if the KMC had decided to demolish decades-old markets, including commercial concerns in and around the iconic Empress Market, it should have provided alternative commercial space for traders to relocate their businesses. While some shopkeepers have been offered alternative locations, this is not true for the majority of the affected traders. Cities all over the world have designated spaces for small traders, such as hawker markets and spots for pushcart vendors. The civic authorities need to chalk out a plan that allows small traders and vendors designated areas where they can do business without having to pay excessive rents, and without clogging streets. Indeed, pushcarts on the roads are one of the key reasons behind traffic jams, especially in the business district. But it is also true that these traders and other ‘encroachers’ operate by greasing the palms of the police and city government. The Karachi mayor, in consultation with other stakeholders, needs to provide a workable rehabilitation plan that can allow the affected traders to resume their businesses and daily wagers to continue to make a living. It must also be said that while the authorities are quick to move in when the working and middle classes ‘encroach’, well-connected land grabbers are often left alone or ‘regularised’. This duplicity must end.

Published in Dawn, January 15th, 2019