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Bahria Town & others: Greed unbound

Land grabbers continue their loot and plunder on Karachi’s outskirts. Only this time, the process is far stealthier.
Updated Sep 14, 2019 12:04pm
The villagers were terrified, afraid their identities may be revealed by this story. It took weeks to convince them to share with Dawn, in confidence, their experiences of being pressured to surrender their land in Jamshoro district in the service of ever-expanding housing communities off Superhighway. “If our sardar finds out we’ve talked to anyone about this, the police will beat us and throw us into the lock-up for days on end,” said Anwar Burfat. He was among a group of goth residents who agreed to speak with Dawn at a restaurant close to Safoora Goth roundabout.

Over the last few years, as revealed in an earlier investigative report in this paper, the indigenous Sindhi and Baloch communities in Malir district were strong-armed into ‘selling’ their land — which they had lived on and cultivated since generations — for Bahria Town Karachi (BTK). They were relentlessly hounded by a two-pronged assault. On the one hand, the Malir police, under SSP Rao Anwar at the time, carried out raids on the goths and booked locals on fake terrorism charges; on the other, Bahria personnel, including a retired colonel, constantly threatened and intimidated them. Meanwhile, in Karachi’s Tauheed commercial area, real estate agents sold registration forms for Bahria’s ill-gotten land like hot cakes.

A farmer working on his patch of land in Malir district. – White Star
A farmer working on his patch of land in Malir district. – White Star

This story, a sequel to the previous one on April 18, 2016, is about how the state’s failure to protect indigenous communities and punish the perpetrators of ‘land grabs’ is resulting in a further hollowing out of the governance system. Dawn’s investigations indicate that Bahria Town in connivance with Sindh government functionaries is continuing to acquire thousands of acres of land in district Jamshoro, adjacent to district Malir, albeit in a more indirect manner than it earlier employed.

This time around, aside from the old cast of land grabbers and dirty cops, there are ruthless feudals and their henchmen playing a pivotal role in what may well be the biggest scam in Pakistan.

At the time of Dawn’s earlier story, satellite images, site visits and interviews with locals had established that BTK was being developed over 23,300 acres in district Malir, the green belt of Karachi. On May 4, 2018, a three-judge bench of the apex court in a majority judgement held Bahria Town guilty of illegally acquiring thousands of acres of land in Malir for its Karachi housing project. It termed the acquisition “void ab initio”, meaning null and void from the outset, and castigated the Board of Revenue Sindh (BoR) and Malir Development Authority (MDA) for their role in the scam.

However, it issued some directions to address the third party interest created on the stolen land and ordered that a three-judge bench be appointed to implement its ruling “in its letter and spirit”. Many consider the ruling by the implementation bench on March 21 this year to have overlooked some important aspects of the original judgement.

A small farm on the left in the path of the advancing Bahria Town. – White Star
A small farm on the left in the path of the advancing Bahria Town. – White Star

What is certain is that neither SC bench gave Bahria permission to expand its housing project further. In fact, the March 21 verdict categorically said: “BTLK [Bahria Town Limited, Karachi] has no right, title, interest or possession of any other land owned by the Government of Sindh other than 16,896 acres…The government of Sindh and the MDA shall ensure that any land beyond this stands retrieved and no excess land shall be allowed to be occupied by BTLK. Any violation of this direction shall entail criminal action both against the functionaries of government of Sindh, MDA and the management of BTLK or whosoever is found responsible.”

Dawn’s investigations indicate that Bahria Town in connivance with Sindh government functionaries is continuing to acquire thousands of acres of land in district Jamshoro, adjacent to district Malir, albeit in a more indirect manner than it earlier employed.

The Supreme Court proceedings in the BTK case that concluded in March dealt with the exchange and consolidation of land in district Malir.

But there are clear signs of expansion into district Jamshoro, although the manner in which this land for expansion is being acquired remains a mystery. Satellite imagery from January 2019 to July 2019 shows that not only has BTK's construction extended well inside deh Mole, taluka Thana Bhula Khan, district Jamshoro but that the construction is ongoing. Bahria Town’s title to land in Jamshoro merits investigation.



An overlay of satellite images from January 2019 to July 2019 showing fresh work on Bahria Town’s road network in district Jamshoro. Satellite image source: Planet; Map details by Dawn GIS

Further inside Jamshoro, there is more damning evidence of criminal wrongdoing by the land mafia and the Sindh government — those details are in the second part of this story: A disaster foretold.

‘King of Kohistan’

In district Jamshoro, which adjoins Malir, the absolute power of a regressive feudal structure determines every aspect of life. This area is part of what is colloquially known as Kohistan (comprising Jamshoro and Hyderabad districts, as well as portions of Karachi’s Malir and West districts). Sardar Malik Asad Sikandar, PPP MPA from Jamshoro is one of the most influential feudals in Sindh. He is chief of the Burfat tribe; with around 100 sub-tribes, it is the biggest of the four tribes in Kohistan. Each tribe has its own sardar, but — and this is why Malik Asad is known as the ‘King of Kohistan' — he is the ‘sardar of sardars’.

With huge landholdings in various parts of Sindh, Malik Asad allegedly has a stake in the many housing societies being planned along Superhighway and draws a steady stream of ‘revenue’ from business and industrial activities within ‘Kohistan’. The area also has a sizable Hindu population, including several owners of rice mills and cotton ginning factories. Many of them also own liquor shops. According to a local journalist, they have “strong linkages and friendships” with Malik Asad and “are at his beck and call”.

Malik Asad with Malik Riaz at the inauguration of the Grand Mosque inside BTK. ─source
Malik Asad with Malik Riaz at the inauguration of the Grand Mosque inside BTK. ─source

Powerful connections are also forged through hunting expeditions hosted by Malik Asad in Kohistan for Arab royalty and assorted members of the Pakistani elite — including at least one retired judge. His own men — who include game wardens and wildlife inspectors from the Sindh Wildlife Department — provide security and facilitate the hunting of not only small game but, in the case of the Arabs, also ibex and the endangered houbara bustard. “No one can hunt without the sardar’s permission anywhere in Kohistan,” said a local who has worked in the wildlife sector for 13 years. He described the camps of the Arab hunting parties as huge, accommodating at least 100 people at every meal, adding with a laugh, “Everything conceivable is provided for them”.

Below Malik Asad in the feudal hierarchy are waderas who head the sub-tribes; below them are the lesser waderas, locally known as kumdar, one in each village. Anyone who challenges this social order is dealt with ruthlessly. The kumdar reinforce the writ of the sardar at the village level, acting as his eyes and ears on the ground. It is a hereditary occupation of sorts, with their fathers and grandfathers having done much the same before them.

The police are a vital link in this chain of oppression. “Let alone the local SHO, even the DSP stands with hands folded in his presence,” said Aziz Burro, a young farmer with a disgruntled expression. “Anyone earning the kumdar or local wadera’s displeasure is picked up in false cases of theft or drug possession and thrown into the lockup for a few days or sent to prison. Can you imagine what it’s like for his family to go to Kotri 100kms away to try and obtain bail?”

Another goth resident narrated the following incident. “About two years ago, when one farmer in deh Rek insisted he had the right to extract minerals found beneath his land [the area is rich in mineral deposits], his pick-up was set on fire and he found himself in the thana. The police showed his arrest as having taken place in Balochistan and charged him with transporting illegal weapons from Durreji. He was in Gadani jail for several months before he got bail.”

Malik Asad, however, refuted such allegations, saying: “We’re here to solve any issue that the people face. We wouldn’t allow any ziyadati to be done with them.”

According to a police officer who has served in Jamshoro, “Usually, police officials here call on him [Malik] off and on during their posting but I didn’t ever go to see him at his home and [for that reason] he complained about me to a senior political person.”

But there are limits even to the tribal chieftain’s enormous power. That became evident when Bahria made known its intention to acquire land in Jamshoro a few years ago. (During the proceedings before the SC’s implementation bench, it came to light that the real estate developer had already acquired several acres in the district).

While Bahria told Dawn that details of its land acquisition in Jamshoro had been shared with the Supreme Court, it did not respond to any other queries put to it by Dawn.

Some say that Malik Asad was loathe to accede to Bahria’s demand, while others allege that in exchange for the land, Malik Asad wanted to drive a hard bargain with the political bosses of the Sindh government who are allegedly partners in BTK. Whatever the case, he was soon made to realise the rules of the game were decided elsewhere.

Differences between Malik Asad and PPP co-chairperson Asif Ali Zardari came to the fore some time in 2017. It is believed the tribal chieftain demanded a price for some 5,000 acres of land in deh Mole in Jamshoro that Malik Riaz, owner of Bahria and Mr Zardari’s close associate, was not willing to pay. In the words of a local contractor, “Malik Riaz went and complained to Zardari that this man is giving me grief all the time. Baray saeen became furious with the sardar”.

(An excerpt from the JIT report investigating the fake accounts case reads: “Bahria Town was recipient of huge acreage of state land for BTK and was occupying huge tracts of adjacent private land with the connivance of government of Sindh. Hence, the Rs10.02 billion was a kickback, Rs8.3bn of which was paid by Bahria through a joint account with Mushtaq Ahmed, confidante of Mr Asif Ali Zardari.”)

According to a source in the Sindh government, an SSP was appointed for district Jamshoro on Malik Riaz’s say-so specifically to strong-arm Malik Asad.

Suddenly, Malik Asad found his dhikkas (sand mining sites) in Lonikot being closed down. Various business activities in Kotri in which he was a beneficiary were disrupted.

The landscape of Malir and Jamshoro is being irrevocably altered by Bahria Town. – White Star
The landscape of Malir and Jamshoro is being irrevocably altered by Bahria Town. – White Star

Some of Malik Asad’s friends in the construction business, such as Arbab Samoo, saw their housing societies along Superhighway, such as Educators Valley, Education City and Jamshoro City partially demolished by the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) in late July. As they were built on land considered to be part of his fiefdom, Malik Asad is said to be a stakeholder in some of those businesses and societies. A civil suit filed by Mr Samoo is pending in the district court.

On top of that, the PPP’s senior leadership started sending out feelers to Malik Asad’s paternal cousin and political rival Malik Changez (even though Changez is affiliated with the PML-N while Malik Asad was PPP MNA from Jamshoro at the time).

According to several sources, it didn’t take long for Malik Asad to come to his senses. “He dashed to Dubai and fell at Zardari’s feet,” said a political activist in Malir. “But even today, the PPP continues to dangle Malik Changez like a sword over Malik Asad’s head in order to control him. When Zardari falls out with someone, he never forgives them. Many Tappis have come and gone.”

That Mr Zardari and Malik Asad’s relationship remains strained is clear. “No protest of note took place in Kotri after Asif Zardari and Faryal Talpur’s arrest,” said a Hyderabad-based journalist. “Only a few people came out on the road. Normally there would have been a big turnout”.

'Please help us'

Meanwhile, the villagers who depend on barani (rain-fed) agriculture, poultry farming or livestock rearing in the area are being driven towards financial ruin. “We wanted to get our land regularised so it wouldn’t be so easy to grab it. But the sardar ordered us not to, saying ‘do you want me to suffer the same fate as Zulfiqar Mirza?’ When our own sardar isn’t backing us, what can we do?” said one local helplessly. Against the backdrop of their despair, Bahria’s replica Eiffel Tower looms in the distance.

Bahria’s replica Eiffel Tower looms over the landscape. – White Star
Bahria’s replica Eiffel Tower looms over the landscape. – White Star

When asked by Dawn, Malik Asad denied that any procurement of land is happening. “There’s been no activity since at least one year, absolutely none.”

However, unlike the land grab earlier, the modus operandi this time around is far more opaque, with several tiers of frontmen between the ‘seller’ and the actual beneficiaries.

The local administration and revenue officials collude in identifying the land to be procured — most of the area is state land with some pockets of maroosi (ancestral) land — and tampering with the records. Using threats and intimidation, kumdar procure the villagers’ land and brokers prepare falsified documents; the land is then sold to frontmen of massive housing projects in the area.

Malik Nadir, a close relative of Malik Asad and a major landowner himself, named Zain Malik and Malik Akhtar, both of Bahria Town, and told Dawn on the record that they “are purchasing land and papers in deh Sari [also in district Jamshoro] and deh Mole. DC Jamshoro is the helping hand. They are buying it for Bahria Town expansion. Buying and selling of land is prohibited in that area. They are doing it illegally”.

In a letter that Malik Nadir wrote to NAB last year, which he has shared with Dawn, he asked that an investigation be conducted into the actions of several individuals including, among others, Faryal Talpur, mukhtiarkar Thana Bhula Khan Mansoor Kalhoro and Malik Changez Khan. The letter reads: “The above cited persons mutually made huge corruption in shape of false record of rights, issuance of false sale certificate, and kept bogus entries of 10,000 acres of above dehs…[Babar Band, Hathal Buth, Kalo Kohar and Mole, all in district Jamshoro].” He has recently updated Dawn that "they have completed their target in Mole, have bought almost 10,000 acres of land there. No more purchasing is being done there".

The villagers who depend on barani (rain-fed) agriculture, poultry farming or livestock rearing in the area are being driven towards financial ruin. “We wanted to get our land regularised so it wouldn’t be so easy to grab it. But the sardar ordered us not to, saying ‘do you want me to suffer the same fate as Zulfiqar Mirza?’

There are several kumdar in the area: however, in conversations with goth residents, a few names repeatedly cropped up as being among those most active in the land grab. Another individual, who lives in Gadap, is described by the villagers as “the head of the qabza cell”. All of them have acquired enormous wealth through work as low-level operatives for the land mafia, as well as from running other criminal rackets in the area, details of which can be found in Part 2 of this story, A disaster foretold.

According to a local rights activist, aside from the bigger zamindars, others aren’t giving up their land willingly. “They don’t know anything else but agriculture and livestock rearing. Where will they go?”

Not all the bigger zamindars want to sell either. When the wadera of Musa Chhoro goth, Pinni Laddo Chhoro, along with several others went to another, more influential, tribal chieftain to plead their case in person, he was sent packing.

Several villagers in district Jamshoro reveal they are being, or have been, coerced to surrender their land at Rs70,000 per acre. (Consider that back in 2007, 120 square yard plot in Taiser Town, Malir, was selling for Rs120,000. At that rate, even then, 12 years ago, one acre of land in the area now affected would be worth Rs4,000,000!)

The land 'sold' by the villagers is then purchased by individuals fronting for massive land developers in the area at Rs2,000,000 per acre, an astronomical 2,757 per cent increase. The figures were confirmed to Dawn by a local broker. In many cases, even the pittance promised to the owners has not fully materialised.

With 4,840 sq yards to an acre, Rs2,000,000 works out at approximately Rs400,000 per 1,000 sq yards. Further, to gauge the eye-watering fortunes being raked in, consider that the price of a 1,000 sq yard plot in Bahria’s Sports City — which currently extends at least up to the boundary of Malir’s deh Bolari where it meets district Jamshoro’s deh Mole — was Rs9,200,000 plus at the time of balloting in 2016. That’s another 2,200pc gain.

According to the locals, the land bought from them is being ‘shifted’ closer to lie alongside already developed housing projects, to enable them to expand further. “This time the land developers are not making the mistake of consolidation, which exposed Bahria badly the last time,” says an academic belonging to the area. However, when contacted, DC Jamshoro retired Capt Fariduddin Mustafa, said: “No recent land transaction has taken place, although some private people may be selling or buying land.” (The DC, appointed by the provincial government, heads the revenue and land administration in a district.)

Map of Bahria as presented to the Supreme Court by BoR Sindh. The image appears to be the latest one on Google Earth Pro, which dates back to December 2017.
Map of Bahria as presented to the Supreme Court by BoR Sindh. The image appears to be the latest one on Google Earth Pro, which dates back to December 2017.

Sajid Chhoro is a local broker who understands the modus operandi like the back of his hand. "Most of the land in deh Mole is unsurveyed; the survey numbers are for small areas of max two acres each. They’re taking the khaatas [a khaata is an assessment of a property, including size and owner’s name, in the land record] and shifting them along with a chunk of surrounding state land. For example, if they take a 10-acre khaata, they’ll show it as 100 acres in the record and place it over land near Bahria.” Then he leans in and asks: “How do you think all the khaatas of deh Mole are now in one corner?”

In short, from numerous interviews of Jamshoro locals, it appears that government land is being illegally procured under the guise of private transactions.

Meanwhile, the digitised land record in the Sindh government’s much-vaunted Land Revenue Management Information System has mysteriously been inaccessible since months. This fortifies the claims made by those cited above, and calls for an investigation.

NAB investigations

Let us turn now to the most well known land grab in the area. For years, NAB dragged its feet in the SC case against Bahria Town. A source in the organisation told Dawn back in 2016: “You have no idea how much pressure we’re under to not move on this.” However, the three-judge apex court bench hearing the case finally managed to prod the anti-corruption watchdog into investigating the shenanigans behind BTK.

During the hearings of the bench set up by the SC to implement its May 4, 2018 judgement, NAB submitted several confidential progress reports to the court.

The contents of these reports are an eye-opener: they reveal, among many other things, Bahria’s contempt for any institutional effort to throw light on its activities.

An excerpt from NAB’s second report, dated Nov 19, 2018 — a copy of which is in Dawn’s possession — and signed by Qamar Abbas Abbasi, Deputy Director/Investigation Officer, NAB Karachi, reads: “It is also submitted that the CEO Ali Ahmed Riaz Malik…and the above named 5x frontmen of BTPL [Waseem Riffat, Waqas Riffat, Shahid Mehmood, Mohammed Awais and Faisal Sarwar] have never joined instant investigation, despite issuance of several call-up notices. The recent call-up notices issued to the known addresses of said 5x frontmen were returned undelivered.”

The March 21, 2019 verdict of the SC’s implementation bench accepted Bahria’s offer of Rs460 billion as land settlement dues to be paid over seven years.

An inexplicable aspect of the implementation bench’s order was its direction to NAB not to file any references against Bahria “for the time being” unless there was any default in making payments or violation “in any of the terms and conditions mentioned…”. This appears to contradict the May 4, 2018 judgement that had ordered NAB to complete its investigation within three months and initiate proceedings in the accountability court against all those guilty of causing loss to the state exchequer.

According to sources in NAB, an investigation was conducted in Case No NABK2016010138803 whereby 34 people were named as accused in connection with “illegal adjustment/exchange/consolidation of thousands of acres of state land in multiple dehs of district Malir for the purpose of development of a private project."

The names include (in chronological order) Malik Riaz, his son Ahmed Ali Riaz, son-in-law Zain Malik, wife Bina Riaz, former Sindh chief minister Qaim Ali Shah and former local government minister Sharjeel Memon. The other names are those of 23 government servants belonging to BoR Sindh, SBCA and MDA; among them, former DC Malir Kazi Jan Mohammed, MDA Additional Director Mohammed Sohail and six retired SBCA DGs — including the infamous Manzoor Kaka who, it is believed, has long absconded to Canada. Former secretary local government Javed Hanif, currently in jail on an unrelated charge, is also in the list. Five names are described as frontmen of Bahria Town.

A copy of NAB’s investigation report recommending that a reference be filed against former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah.
A copy of NAB’s investigation report recommending that a reference be filed against former chief minister Qaim Ali Shah.

NAB’s investigation report on Mr Shah notes: “After discussing the role/evidence collected during the course of investigation against ex-CM Syed Qaim Ali Shah in the RBM, it was decided that enough evidence has been available/collected to prosecute him.”

Meanwhile, an interesting situation has arisen as to the status of the land in Malir where BTK is coming up. In its May 4, 2018 judgement, the SC had ordered: “The government land would go back to the government and the land of the Bahria Town exchanged for the government land would go back to Bahria Town…[T]he land could be granted to the Bahria Town afresh by the BoR under the provisions of Colonisation of Government Land 1912.”

(The court was referring here to Bahria Town’s purported purchase of separate pieces of land in distant parts of Malir where land rates are as low as Rs20,000 per acre. MDA then illegally adjusted and consolidated these for Bahria’s benefit in parts of Malir close to Superhighway where land values were up to 50 times higher.)

However, despite the apex court having expressly declared that the exchange and consolidation activities in Malir were “void ab initio and as such have no existence,” BoR Sindh — the rightful owner of the land — has not yet allotted one inch of the area “afresh” to Bahria.

The problem, say sources, is that the court did not clarify how the process of regularisation is to be done. The Colonisation of Government Lands Act 1912 does not provide for a situation where what has been declared illegal can be legalised. Given an environment where NAB is particularly active, this conundrum has left the bureaucracy paralysed. (In fact, a Senior Member BoR, Sindh was recently made OSD because he was reluctant to take on the task lest it put him in legal jeopardy at some point. The current SMBR is Shamsuddin Soomro.)

Even so, the Sindh government made a show of complying with the May 4 verdict. On Oct 29, 2018 the then SMBR Muhammad Hussain Syed chaired a meeting at his office in Karachi. Also present were the secretaries for Land Utilisation and Local Government Departments, as well the DG, MDA and the DC Malir.

According to the minutes of the meeting, it was decided that BoR would cancel/withdraw the orders whereby it had reserved and allotted land in favour of MDA. “…[T]he DC, Malir Karachi upon receiving of order…shall take necessary action as per order of the Honorable SC...”.

Nothing has happened thus far. BoR did not do the necessary paperwork, nor did the DC Malir, Shahzad Afzal Abbasi, assume control over the illegally acquired land. BoR even sent him a reminder to do the needful.

Despite the apex court having expressly declared that the exchange and consolidation activities in Malir were “void ab initio and as such have no existence,” BoR Sindh — the rightful owner of the land — has not yet allotted one inch of the area “afresh” to Bahria.

Both G. N. Mughal, BoR’s legal advisor and Irshad Rind, deputy secretary litigation BoR confirmed there has been no progress in this direction so far. Mr Rind also blamed the DC Malir who he said showed no inclination to take physical possession of the government land in Malir after the May 4 judgement, or halt Bahria’s construction work thereon.

As for MDA, its advisor planning Manzar Zahoor took a similar line. “The DC Malir has to first take control of the Bahria Town land after which, in the light of the SC’s directives, the Sindh government has to allot it to MDA”. BoR has reportedly decided that when a procedure for the land regularisation is agreed upon, it will first be sent to the provincial assembly for approval.

The implementation bench on March 21 had also ordered that construction in BTK “shall be compliant with all the applicable laws, rules and regulations, including the SBCA laws”. How is this to be reconciled with the fact that SBCA, a provincial body responsible for ensuring that building plans conform to existing building and town planning regulations, has allowed Bahria to proceed with its development of BTK without obtaining even basic NOCs? The authority till date has only approved layout plans for 6,728 acres of the sprawling project.

SBCA’s show-cause notice asking Bahria to stop its unauthorised construction undertaken without mandatory NOCs.
SBCA’s show-cause notice asking Bahria to stop its unauthorised construction undertaken without mandatory NOCs.

In fact, as recently as April this year, the SBCA sent a show-cause notice to Bahria Town with reference to “sale/booking of commercial plots in the name of Liberty commercial at Bahria Town in daily newspapers wherein it is intimated that approval of 12th [sic] storey building is available. The said advertisement is misleading as SBCA has not granted any approval for construction of multistory buildings at Bahria Town, while approval of type design for 1,055 houses earlier granted has also been withdrawn.”

The notice then directs Bahria to “stop forthwith illegal and unauthorized construction and sale and advertisement activities at site…” One can be sure this is yet another instance of regulatory authorities going through the motions, without any intention of following through.


With additional reporting by Aslam Shah and Mohammad Hussain Khan.

Some names have been changed for the sake of privacy.


Header design: Marium Ali

Read the conclusion by clicking on the A DISASTER FORETOLD tab below.

The concluding part of ‘Bahria Town & others: Greed unbound’ looks at unchecked sand mining & groundwater extraction in Malir & Jamshoro.

In a situation where the bottom line is what counts while the law is trampled underfoot, the land grab in Malir and Jamshoro has given wheels to a number of criminal enterprises in the area.

On a hot summer day in mid May, at least half a dozen dumpers were parked along the banks of Mole naddi, a seasonal stream that falls into the Malir river about 30 miles north of Karachi. Several excavators were scooping out huge amounts of river silt. One of the dumper drivers, Omar, came across for a chat. He told Dawn that some 65 dumpers make three round trips every day, 24 hours a day.

“Almost all the reti is for Bahria, although some goes into the city. Because of Ramazan, it’s a little quiet because many of the drivers here are from Swat and Shangla and they go home for Eid.”

Dumpers going to and fro lifting sand from the Mole naddi riverbed. —White Star
Dumpers going to and fro lifting sand from the Mole naddi riverbed. —White Star

A wide uncarpeted track has been especially created to transport sand and gravel dredged from the riverbed. It extends from Mole naddi all the way into Malir and Bahria Town Karachi (BTK). Even during Ramazan, within a 20-minute span, the Dawn team witnessed at least five dumpers going in the direction of BTK, their wheels raising clouds of dust in their wake.

According to Malik Asad Sikandar, the area’s powerful tribal chief, the sand mining is “completely legal and is being done by locals on the basis of leases [from the government]”.

However, as per the Sindh (Prohibition of Taking Minerals Including Reti (Sand) and Bajri From Any Land) Act 2003, no exception can be made or sanction can be given for such excavation “if it adversely affects the topography, archaeology, ecology and environment of that area”.

Influential locals, including the kumdar and other opportunists in the service of the land mafia, are making money hand over fist from various rackets in the area.

Sand and gravel mining here carries dire short- and long-term consequences. “All of this is the support area for Kirthar National Park,” said Rakhman Gul Palari, professor at Karachi University’s Sindhi department. “The park’s eco-system is all inter-connected. The wildlife sanctuaries, the game sanctuaries all depend on the area remaining in its natural state.”

Kirthar is Pakistan’s second largest wildlife sanctuary after Hingol. Chinkara gazelles, urials, hyenas and the rare Sindh ibex are among the many animals found there.

The sand and gravel mining has also devastated the farmers: sand slows down the flow of water, acting as a filter before the water seeps into the earth. Wholesale plunder of the riverbed disrupts that process, and the water table in large parts of Jamshoro and Malir has plunged to critical levels.

“We used to draw water from a depth of 40 or 50 feet; now it’s at 200 feet,” said Karim Burfat, who cultivates vegetables on a patch of land very close to Mole naddi. “A thick layer of sand covers everything. The crops get ruined and the grass that sustains the livestock becomes scorched.”

Fiefdoms built on sand

Resistance is futile: some who have tried to prevent the lifting of sand have been thrashed and thrown into the police lock-up.

While farmers like Karim are witness to their livelihoods withering away, influential locals, including the kumdar and other opportunists in the service of the land mafia, are making money hand over fist from the various rackets in the area.

Four years ago one of them worked at a provisions store; another used to sell sugar and flour at the Kathore bazaar in Malir; a third had a tailoring shop in the same market. These individuals, and several other kumdar now own dumpers and excavators, and have acquired buffalo farms, car showrooms, etc.

“People who didn’t own 10 goats ten years ago now have dumpers worth millions of rupees along with land cruisers, Vigos and whatnot,” said one of the villagers bitterly. “Many goths have no electricity, yet these men can afford to put up big solar panels on the roof of their homes. It’s creating a lot of resentment.”

One may well ask: where will this land grab end, and who will put a stop to it?

The sand and gravel mining racket is a real money-spinner. The contents of each dumper sell for Rs22,000 inside BTK (some dumpers go further afield but the biggest customer by far is the behemoth in the neighbourhood). From the total, the owners/kumdar make around Rs6,500 while the rest — minus fuel and maintenance expenses — goes to other influential ‘stakeholders’ up the hierarchy, including the police and allegedly the tribal chiefs.

The kumdar in the goth closest to deh Mole’s boundary with deh Bolari in Malir district also charges Rs800 per dumper as ‘zillabandi tax’ to allow the vehicles to cross over.

Meanwhile, the farmers whose small patches of agricultural land close to Mole naddi are dying for lack of water, are ‘compensated’ with Rs200 per dumper. One of them however, a wizened old man with betel nut stained teeth refuses to accept the pittance offered. “Is that the price for my destruction?” he fumed.

It is not only the sand and silt from the riverbed that is being gouged out to meet the insatiable construction demands in the area. One huge sand mining site also lies on the boundary between Malir and Jamshoro districts near BTK’s Sports City. Moreover, the natural landscape is being ruthlessly refashioned by Bahria to follow the BTK layout (and the sand produced as a result is also being used in construction): hills have been ground down and natural river courses truncated.

The natural landscape is being reshaped by Bahria to suit the BTK layout. — White Star
The natural landscape is being reshaped by Bahria to suit the BTK layout. — White Star

Squeezing the land dry

Construction also requires water, and a gargantuan project like BTK requires millions and millions of gallons of it. And that is where the area’s sub soil water is being diverted — despite Section 144 being in force against the extraction of water for commercial purposes in the adjoining Malir district.

The ban was imposed after the Sindh High Court in 2004 restrained Nestle Pakistan from setting up a water bottling plant in deh Chuhar, Malir. The verdict held that “once the process of extracting the water in such a huge quantity is allowed to operate, each day, each hour, and each minute water deposits in the aquifer would diminish rapidly and shall adversely affect the rights of plaintiffs to use the underground water according to their genuine needs which shall amount to an irreparable loss to them”.

If allowed to go ahead, the Nestle plant would have been only three kms from BTK as the crow flies. According to Gul Hassan Kalmati, central committee member of the Indigenous Rights Alliance Sindh and a well-known historian, anthropologist and writer, there are more than 200 submersible pumps in Malir, capable of drawing out 26,000,000 gallons of water in 24 hours.

Aside from these, say locals, another 25 or so are inside Bahria Town itself, steadily depleting the sub soil aquifer, the only source of water in the area for villages situated even miles away. (Of these, two were installed about ten years ago by the District Council Karachi to supply water to nearby goths on a non-commercial basis.)

The hydrant owners sell the water to various housing schemes in the area, but largely to BTK for its massive construction needs. This of course is another source of illegal earnings for the police, the kumdar and others.

The afore-mentioned second confidential progress report submitted by NAB to the apex court also questions how “the BTK project is getting millions of gallons of fresh/potable water inside BTK project for daily consumption and for mass scale construction”.

When asked how many villages in deh Mole alone are affected in one way or another by the land grabbing, water extraction, or sand mining — a group of locals begin to count off the goths on their fingers. They arrive at an estimate of at least 25.

Consider that state land in other dehs in district Jamshoro, including Hathal Buth, Uth Palan, Babar Band and Sari, is also being acquired in the same illegal way as that in deh Mole. One may well ask: where will this land grab end, and who will put a stop to it?

A morally bankrupt state

What is happening on the outskirts of Karachi is a perfect example of a morally bankrupt state.

Even as government functionaries break every law in the book to enrich themselves and their partners-in-crime in the establishment, they have done nothing for the people they claim to represent. Education and health facilities in Jamshoro’s taluka Thana Bhula Khan are virtually non-existent. “Any medical emergency such as a heart attack or a difficult delivery means certain death. Rarely can anyone get to a Karachi hospital in time,” said a local.

At night in particular, BTK is a savagely apt metaphor for the haves and have-nots in this saga.

Hardly anyone has taken up residence in this sprawling community so far, yet, come sunset, each road, each landmark is lit up. Even the replica Eiffel Tower overlooking BTK is illuminated. But villages dotting the surrounding areas, in which hundreds of people live, are shrouded in darkness.

For them, there is neither electricity, nor proper roads.

Some names have been changed for the sake of privacy.