KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Friday expressed dismay over failure of the railways secretary and advocate general for Sindh to provide any proper update about the project to revive the Karachi Circular Railway and relocation of the affected people and cautioned that the prime minister, Sindh chief minister and others concerned would be put on contempt notice over non-compliance with the court directives despite a lapse of two years.
A three-member SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, directed the Pakistan Railways and Sindh government authorities to carry out the operation for removal of encroachments from all the lands meant for the long-delayed KCR to start its operations within six months.
The bench, while hearing a case at the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry, expressed resentment over the failure of the federal and provincial authorities to implement the court’s May 2019 directives to remove encroachments from the KCR tracks, revive the train service and relocate the people to be affected by it.
At one point, CJP Gulzar Ahmed also warned that the prime minister, chief minister, the railways secretary and others concerned would be put on contempt notice and regretted that the court was not given any proper update about the KCR and its infrastructure, as neither the railways secretary nor the advocate general had any instructions from the federal and provincial governments, respectively.
The chief justice observed that both the secretary and advocate general stated that they were dependent on finances from China and activation of the Chinese contractor company since the project had been included in the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor.
The railways secretary and Advocate General Salman Talibuddin had informed the SC bench that the federal and provincial governments were dependent on $2 billion financing agreed by the Chinese government and Chinese contractor for the revival of the KCR project.
The bench asked the law officer what would happen if the Chinese company backed out of its agreement. “This would make the country a laughing stock for the world that it cannot build merely a 42km-long railway service,” the CJP said and asked the advocate general to seek instructions from the Sindh CM in this regard during the recess.
The advocate general informed the court that a meeting of the government authorities concerned with the Chinese ambassador was scheduled for Feb 25 in Islamabad, where the project’s financing was expected to be finalised.
When the bench asked why the Sindh government was not obtaining finances from local investors for the project, he said the court might issue directives for the relevant authorities to cancel the agreement with the Chinese company if it deemed so appropriate.
The court noted with concern that the encroachments were increasing day by day on the every land of the KCR and nothing had been done to stop it and relocate the people who would be affected during the operation against encroachments.
The bench directed the railways secretary to issue within one week notices to the occupants of the railways land on a portion of the KCR railway station in the Gulshan-i-Iqbal area to vacate the premises.
The court directed the Pakistan Railways and Sindh government to chalk out a programme for relocation of the people affected by such an ejection and settle them in a decent manner by providing them electricity, gas, sewerage, roads connectivity, schools, colleges, hospitals, etc.
“But an indiscriminate action shall be taken for the removal of the encroachments and for the settlement of the affected persons and to secure the land obtained from the removal of such encroachments,” it ordered.
The bench also directed them to submit weekly progress report to the court that should also contain the specific plan for the KCR revival clearly showing the areas from where the encroachments had been removed. The court asked the Sindh chief secretary, the attorney general of Pakistan and the advocate general to appear before it on the next date and adjourned the hearing to March 6.
At this, Advocate General Talibuddin requested to the court to defer its orders for the operation to remove the encroachments on the KCR land, arguing that it would dislocate a large number of people from their houses. He maintained that the government would soon start implementation on the recommendations prepared by the urban planning committee constituted for the project revival and resettlement of the affected people.
Coming down hard on the advocate general, the CJP said the court had issued such directives two years ago, but the authorities concerned did not even prepare a plan for relocation of the people to be affected. He told the law officer that the provincial government authorities, and not the court, would be responsible if the houses of people were demolished. The CJP regretted that commercial activities were continuing on the encroached land and not a single illegal wedding hall had been demolished over the past two years.
At one stage, the bench came down hard on Leader of the Opposition in the Sindh Assembly Firdous Shamim Naqvi of the PTI, who appeared before the court and sought permission to speak during the proceedings.
The CJP wondered whether he (Mr Naqvi) had come to the court against his own (party’s) government.
When the PTI leader said he appeared before the court in the capacity of the opposition leader, the bench asked him not to intervene in the proceedings.
A large number of people gathered outside the SC Karachi registry in protest against their eviction from their houses during the anti-encroachment drive and illegal encroachments upon their plots in the Aligarh Muslim University Old Boys Cooperative Housing Society, Gulshan-i-Mehran, etc.
They appealed to the chief justice to order their resettlement and removal of encroachments from their properties.
Published in Dawn, February 22nd, 2020