KARACHI: A group of downpour-affected citizens holding a protest at the offices of the Cantonment Board Clifton.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star
KARACHI: A group of downpour-affected citizens holding a protest at the offices of the Cantonment Board Clifton.—Fahim Siddiqi / White Star

KARACHI: Residents protesting against the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) and the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) over their slackness to remove rainwater from several roads and streets lost their cool on Monday as they scaled the CBC office gate to force it open and stage a sit-in to demand removal of top CBC and DHA officials.

The protesters also demanded dewatering within next three days, restoration of power and gas supplies to all phases within 24 hours, reconstruction of infrastructure in 30 days, construction of water drains in 30 days, accountability of officials with forensic audit of DHA and CBC accounts and mosquito spray in all phases.

Another point added during the hours-long protest dealt with the removal of taxes, including water charges as the CBC is unable to provide water to residents who are at the mercy of ‘tanker mafia’.

While the CBC spokesman’s phone was powered off when Dawn attempted to seek his views, the protesters said the cantonment board did not agree to most of their demands. They claimed they were prepared to stage another protest demonstration on Thursday outside DHA office in Phase I.

The residents had resolved to hold a peaceful protest for half an hour outside the Khayaban-i-Rahat office of CBC on Monday, but it stretched to four and a half hours as emotions ran high after they found no official, save security personnel and police, there to hear out their grievances or receive their list of demands.

Using Facebook and WhatsApp, DHA and Clifton residents had mobilised under the banner of ‘New Residents Committee DHA’ a non-political group. The organisers ensured it should remain as residents’ protest only, with no political backing, as they requested social activists and politicians to stay away and not to use the forum for any political purpose.

The residents wanted to know who would pay for their losses due to the flooding of their homes. They demanded the resignation of CBC’s CEO and DHA’s administrator. Women, children and men holding placards that read that they refuse to pay taxes were assembled in front of the CBC gates. One placard read ‘See Lahore DHA. See Karachi DHA!’

Finding no representative of CBC or DHA, the residents decided to break into the offices to find them themselves and address them directly. The women scaled the gates first and the police who were without women officers stepped back as they tried stopping them verbally. The women then unlatched the gates for the men to push their way in. Suddenly the peaceful protest had taken the form of an angry mob. They picked up the potted plants to hurl them at the police and security personnel forcing them to move backwards until they had climbed the roof to escape the people and latch the door there from the inside to keep them away. While they addressed them from the rooftop, asking them to calm down, they also dodged the sandals, slippers and shoes that were being flung at them from below.

Meanwhile, those of them who had made their way inside the building were asked to stay there and not send any live videos of their meeting with CBC officers or the police. The police also informed them that they can take their list of demands from them and give them a receiving receipt in return. But the people demanded to meet the CBC CEO.

At one point, CBC CEO Saleem Hassan Wattoo came out briefly only to go back into the building after protesters started raising the demand for his resignation.

An organiser requesting anonymity told Dawn that this protest must not be pinned on one individual. “This is a collective effort,” he said. He explained that the CBC asked for three days to remove water but the cantonment board officials did not accept the other demands.

He said: “One of our main points was that CBC should waive off our tax for the next five years. They disagreed. We then asked them that they should provide us line water, CBC representatives said we have a huge issue when it comes to water. CBC said they will work on emergency basis and drain out water in three days, will work in drains cleaning and improving road infrastructure, but it will take time. We asked them to fix this in 10 days but CBC did not agree.

“The CBC did not note down all our grievances and only seven points were taken up. These were jotted on a plain white paper, which we refused to accept unless given to us on a CBC letterhead with the CEO’s signature,” the protester added.

The organizers said they would be taking lawyers on board to resolve the issue. At the meeting, there were 20 people including women and senior citizens.

Outside the CBC office, Nazia Zuberi, one of the protesters, told Dawn that her 80-year-old mother, widow of an army officer, resided in DHA Phase IV with gutter water flooding her entire ground floor. “When she was rescued, the fridge was floating on its back in her kitchen. And she had no electricity. Does anyone in the CBC or K-Electric realise how much money we have spent to run our generators? We have spent over Rs20,000,” she said.

Another protester Yasir from the Khayaban-i-Muhafiz and Khayaban-i-Shujaat intersection in Phase-VI said his house had become an island. “Living on an island must be a dream come true for many but then there is the flip side of the coin. There are also people like us,” he laughed sarcastically.

Adila Islam, a protester from off Khayaban-i-Bukhari in Phase VI, said they had no electricity at their place for three days after the initial rain on August 27. “My sister-in-law who lives a few streets away from us is still without power and has had to leave her home to stay with us,” she said.

“We love our country, and we respect the armed forces of Pakistan,” said Kulsoom Tahir, who has been residing in Khayaban-i-Hilal for 33 years. “We pay taxes and we expect certain services in exchange for that money. We pay property tax, we pay water tax, we pay refurbishment charges, and what not! But in return our homes and our roads are flooded with gutter water even though our water taps remain dry. Despite paying water taxes, we are buying water from bowsers,” she added.

Zahid Aqeel, a resident of DHA Phase-I, said the DHA “lacks planning”. Glancing at the storm drains laid out in the middle of one side of Khayaban-i-Rahat itself where the CBC office is located and the stagnant water at one end of the road there, he shrugged: “We, the residents, are still paying for these poorly planned drains created in a rush 13 years ago when rainwater had entered the basements of residents. Now even with these drains, the water couldn’t find an escape and we have not just our basements but our ground floors flooded as well.”

“What’s more? We are made to pay for these drains too! Recently, when I wanted some renovation work done at my place and I came here to the CBC I was informed that first I had to pay a challan or refurbishment charges that were to be attached to my papers. These charges amounted to Rs148,000. But there is a stay order in the court against refurbishment charges. CBC’s asking it is against the law. And yet they demand these for things such as renovation, mutation, etc.,” the gentleman added.

Neighbouring areas

The CBC was brought into existence through a notification (SRO No. 207(1)/ (83), dated Feb 27, 1983) in order to provide municipal cover to 8 DHA phases together with 13 kutchi abadi including Delhi Colony, Madniabad, Punjab Colony, Chandio Village, Bakhshan Village, Ch Khaliquz Zaman Colony, Pak Jumhoria Colony, Lower Gizri, Hazara Colony (Railway land), P&T Colony, MES Colony, Transit Camp, PNS Haider, PNS Shifa, 494 FWO located in the periphery and Blocks 8-9 of Clifton.

While the situation in these areas is abysmal, the residents and business owners from Punjab Colony, Delhi Colony, P&T Colony and Gizri say they have not been included in the Monday protest though they are as much the victims of CBC as the protesting residents.

Published in Dawn, September 1st, 2020