WHERE encroachments are concerned, the usual pattern followed in Pakistan is that the illegal occupation of land is allowed by the state — in fact, often facilitated by those in power — until some state institution — usually the court — orders that the racket be halted. This is pretty much the case with the occupation of the tracks and land of the Karachi Circular Railway. It was only after stern orders from the Supreme Court last month that the administration swung into action and started clearing the tracks for this vital public transport project, after decades of inaction and after much of the area had been encroached upon. However, while the court order must be respected and the tracks cleared so that the KCR can be revived, the anti-encroachment operation has taken a human toll, as many people have been left homeless because of it. A large number of affected persons took out a rally in Karachi on Sunday demanding that the drive be suspended until they were provided with alternative shelter. In fact, the apex court had also ordered that alternative arrangements be made for those affected by the anti-encroachment drive. The Sindh government has promised the evicted persons land for housing. Therefore, arrangements should be made to give them shelter forthwith.
Looking at the big picture, it must be asked where the authorities — the Railways ministry, the Sindh and Karachi administrations, the police etc — were when houses and shops were being built on or near the tracks of the KCR. It goes without saying that encroachments can only spring up under the patronage of the state, and through the machinations of the land mafia. However, when the order comes to remove encroachments, the state abandons those who paid hard-earned money to build a roof over their heads. While encroachments cannot be condoned, the involvement of criminal elements in running this racket and the connivance of the state should not be overlooked as they facilitate the illegal occupation of land.
Published in Dawn, June 11th, 2019