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‘Karachi’s encroachment issue needs to be analysed in context’

February 02, 2019

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PANELLISTS discuss the impact of the anti-encroachment drive while (right) attendees of the festival relax on the grounds of Governor House on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star
PANELLISTS discuss the impact of the anti-encroachment drive while (right) attendees of the festival relax on the grounds of Governor House on Friday.—Fahim Siddiqi/White Star

KARACHI: One of the first sessions of the inaugural Adab Festival Pakistan at the Sindh Governor House on Friday was on the subject of Karachi: Encroachments and Demolitions, moderated by Rumana Husain.

The first question that the moderator put to the panellists was about the Supreme Court’s order on clearing encroachments.

Mohammad Toheed said during the anti-encroachment drive at Empress Market, 1,700 shops and 12 markets were demolished. There was no survey done prior to carrying out the operation.

Faisal Siddiqui said the context in which the Supreme Court gave the order needed to be looked into. There was a time when Karachi was governed by a certain political party in a “fascist” manner. Once it moved out of the picture, the party that got hold of the city’s reins didn’t seem to care much about it. It is against this backdrop that the court intervened. Where there is a vacuum such as this, these things happen.

No survey was conducted before razing 1,700 shops of Empress Market

He said the second context before the Supreme Court was some “competing rights”. The first was rule of law; second, right to housing; third, right to rehabilitation; fourth, rule of law implemented without discrimination. Another context is that there are two voices to be heard: voices of legal and executive minds. Mr Siddiqui remarked that the problem was solvable but it needed to be looked at bearing its contexts in mind.

Dr Noman Ahmed of the NED University of Engineering and Technology responded to a query about the Karachi Strategic Development Plan. He said it was now defunct. He told the moderator plans were often made but they did not get legal protection.

Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani said the Supreme Court’s orders were to be implemented by the executive, which meant chief secretary, secretary, commissioner, etc.

When the court order first came in October after which action on the Empress Market was taken, it was the local government that was required to implement it.

He then told the moderator about the meeting that he had with the shopkeepers of Empress Market after he took charge of office on Oct 23, 2018. He argued that “we have to implement orders with due diligence”.

Published in Dawn, February 2nd, 2019