'What is happening in Karachi? It was once the jewel of Pakistan,' laments CJP

Updated 08 Feb 2020

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Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed on Thursday took various officials to task for the condition of Karachi while hearing a case regarding the removal of encroachments in the metropolis and renewing the original face of the city. — PID/File
Chief Justice of Pakistan Justice Gulzar Ahmed on Thursday took various officials to task for the condition of Karachi while hearing a case regarding the removal of encroachments in the metropolis and renewing the original face of the city. — PID/File

The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the removal of the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) Director General Zafar Ahsan while hearing a case regarding the removal of encroachments in Karachi and restoring the original face of the city.

The court said that an "honest officer" should be appointed, adding that the Sindh chief secretary look into the matter personally and take legal action against officials who are found to be involved in corrupt practices. He also directed authorities to remove encroachments in Karachi within a week.

While issuing the order, the court expelled SBCA Director (research) Mushtaq Soomro from the courtroom.

"No one is allowed to exploit citizens," the court declared.

"This department of yours is very corrupt," the court said to the Sindh advocate general.

"I admit, but there are some honest officials as well," the advocate general replied.

A three-member bench of the apex court comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah had taken up miscellaneous petitions in the Supreme Court's Karachi registry.

During the proceedings, Justice Shah noted that "portions are being built after openly taking bribes, in every street, every block of Nazimabad".

"Construction is being done while government-owned cars are parked [outside]," he added.

"This is the total destruction of the city of Karachi," the chief justice remarked.

The court also directed that petrol pumps and other structures built on the drain on Shahrah-i-Quaideen be removed.

Karachi a mess

At the outset of the hearing, Chief Justice Ahmed had taken various officials to task for the condition of Karachi's infrastructure while hearing a case regarding the removal of encroachments in the metropolis and restoring the original face of the city.

During the proceedings, the top judge asked for the reason behind the situation in Karachi and said: "This is not some village, at one point Karachi used to be the jewel of Pakistan.

"What a mess you have created in your self-serving interests. Entire parks, graveyards and residential plots have vanished.

"You want to run Karachi, then run it and show us."

The top judge asked Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin if various illegal constructions in the city had been removed.

"Tell us, what is the situation of parks and playgrounds?" Justice Ahmed inquired.

He told the advocate general to read Article 140 of the Constitution, which reads: "Each Province shall, by law, establish a local government system and devolve political, administrative and financial responsibility and authority to the elected representatives of the local governments."

"Doesn't this article apply to Sindh?" he asked.

Throughout the proceedings, the various officials continued to trade blame. The provincial chief secretary told the court that the Sindh government had given most of the authority to the Karachi mayor.

"The mayor is wrong in saying he has no authority," the chief secretary said.

The top judge inquired about various aspects of the city's infrastructure including the sewerage system.

"All the money goes in your pockets," the top judge expressed his displeasure, asking if any money is spent of Karachi's citizens.

"Don't be a master in front of us, you are an employee of Pakistan," Justice Ahmed told the chief secretary.

"You people wear a suit and sit in an office. Tell us this, what street did you visit last," he said adding: "Tell us why you people don't make the city beautiful."

Taking Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar to the task, the top judge asked Akhtar if he had constructed any roads.

Responding to this, Akhtar said they had made small streets in the Nazimabad area of the city.

"There are no small lanes there, present a record of how many roads you have made," the top judge said and asked him to tell the court what he had done for the city.

Addressing the municipalities secretary, Justice Ahmed said: "You may be someone's favourite but there are no favourites here."

The court also asked the police about their strategy for removing encroachments, in response to which Additional IG Ghulam Nabi Memon said their job was to provide security.

Delay in KCR revival

Meanwhile, taking up a case regarding the revival of the local train and tram service, the court admonished both provincial and federal government officials for their failure to revive the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR).

At the outset, Justice Ahmed inquired if the court's order from last year to revive the KCR had been acted upon.

Read: SC directs Sindh govt to revive Karachi Circular Railway within a month

Various officials, including former Railways secretary Sikandar Sultan Raja, Commissioner Karachi Iftikhar Shallwani, Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, and Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin, appeared before the court.

During the proceedings, the provincial advocate general read out the apex court's earlier order in which the top court had directed that the circular and local train services be restored within a month.

Talibuddin said that they had provided a briefing in this regard, adding that the project had now been included in the China Pakistan Economic Corridor.

"We have completed the framework and sent it to the federal government three times," he said.

Meanwhile, the railways secretary said that they were not delaying the project; in fact, they were completing their responsibility.

"The government doesn't want that the circular railway is revived," remarked Justice Ahmed, adding: "Now we will issue a contempt of court notice to the Sindh chief minister and railways secretary. Let's also issue a contempt notice to the Karachi mayor and Karachi commissioner.

"Come with me, I'll show you how the work is done. You people don't want to fulfil your responsibility," the chief justice said.

The provincial advocate general said that the secretary was presenting an incorrect statement, adding that the removal of encroachments and handing over the land to the Sindh government was the responsibility of the Railways ministry.

"You people are [only looking at] your political agenda, due to political affiliations you are not doing this," the top judge remarked.

He reprimanded the railways secretary saying that instead of droning on with stories, the official should tell the court why the KCR was not operating.

"This will not work, just tell us why the KCR is not functioning," he said.

Meanwhile, the various officials involved continued to trade blame with the railways secretary alleging that the Sindh government was the hindrance.

"Is this the Sindh government's responsibility?" the court inquired, in response to which the railways secretary said that as per an agreement it was not the responsibility of the provincial government.

"Should we call the Sindh chief minister and ask him whose responsibility this is?" the court asked, asking the official: "You tell us, have you given the circular railway land to the Sindh government?"

The court expressed its displeasure, saying that at the time that the order was passed by the apex court, all the information was available. "You didn't know these problems?"

"If you accuse one another, nothing will happen," the judge said, adding that meetings had been ongoing for years yet no solution had been found.

During the proceedings, Advocate Faisal Siddiqui told the court that 6,500 people had been made homeless, yet big plazas in the city were not being demolished.

"Big, big buildings have been made on railways land, go demolish them," Justice Ahmed remarked.

The hearing was briefly adjourned as the court sought a copy of the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) report that the KCR had been handed over to the Sindh government.