Angered by the lack of preparedness and response by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) after the record-breaking rains in Karachi last week, residents on Thursday filed a petition in the Sindh High Court (SHC) against both bodies for their "abject failure to perform basic duties".
The court issued notices to CBC and DHA on the petition, seeking their reply within three weeks when it is expected to take up the case.
Separately, pre-arrest bail was granted to at least 22 people who protested outside the CBC last week against the lack of action by the departments concerned.
A day earlier, the CBC lodged a first information report (FIR) against them on charges of "ransacking" its office, using "inappropriate language" against state institutions, spreading fear, harassing officials and creating hindrances in official work.
A protest by residents, meanwhile, was held outside the DHA Karachi Head Office.
The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, states that the authorities' "abject failure to discharge their statutory mandate as well as their gross negligence" had resulted in "disastrous loss of lives and destruction of property during the course of the heavy rains" while residents continued to suffer for days afterwards.
"The CBC is responsible for urban management functions [whereas] the DHA conducts development and planning works within its allotted area," it said.
It said that the DHA and CBC had been aware of the increasing flooding risk for the last two decades but had "failed to take necessary steps towards mitigating it", despite taking "billions of rupees" for fixing the storm-water drainage system. The petition cited examples from rains in 2006, 2009, 2017 and 2019 which had exposed the "flaws in the drainage system".
"[The failure of CBC] to establish a proper drainage system — as well as sheer negligence in maintaining even the existing basic infrastructure — in the face of increasing annual flooding is well-documented," it stated.
The petition said that the CBC had invited bids from contractors for cleaning/desilting of storm-water drains in April 2020 but later claimed that the rates quoted in the bids were "unreasonable" and abandoned the project instead of inviting bids again.
"Due to the catastrophic flooding across the CBC and DHA area, scores of residents suffered millions in losses due to wholesale property damage, and many are still unable to return to their homes due to continuing inundation and standing water across vast swathes of DHA and CBC," it said.
Moreover, residents in the area also suffered from long power outages — extending over 96 hours] in some places after the K-Electric suspended electricity supply over electrocution concerns.
"[CBC and DHA] failed to implement any emergency or rescue measures, and it was only due to the efforts of various non governmental organisations (NGOs) that some relief was provided."
"[Their] abject and well-documented failure to perform their basic duties as described above stands in stark contrast to the burgeoning taxes and charges collected by them from the residents each year," the petition stated, adding that they had also not responded to residents' requests to show financial statements.
The petition also termed the registration of the FIR against at least 22 residents who protested "peacefully" in front of the CBC's Karachi office earlier this week as "malicious".
"A malicious FIR has been lodged against at least 22 residents who had attended the demonstration on the basis of completely false and unsubstantiated charges, including 'raising of slogans against state institutions', 'terrorising government officials' and 'stopping relief works'," it said.
"The FIR is a malicious and undisguised attempt to threaten, intimidate and subdue the residents and prevent them from exercising their constitutional rights."
The petition called on the court to declare that the CBC and DHA had "failed to perform their statutory duties and infringed the rights of the petitioners [...] by failing to maintain a functional drainage system".
It also called upon the court to declare them "liable for the loss of life and damage to property suffered by the residents" during the heavy rains on Aug 27 and 28.
It requested the court to order the formation of a committee comprising representatives of the residents of DHA and CBC, as well as architects, civil engineers and urban planning experts which would make plans for improving the drainage system in the area to be implemented by the authorities.
It also asked the court to direct them to "immediately demolish all buildings and structures constructed upon, and/or otherwise encroaching upon or obstructing any public sewers, nullahs and/or drains" as well as stop them from facilitating any further land reclamation on areas essential for drainage.
The petition also requested the court to direct an independent auditor to conduct a forensic audit of the two bodies' financial accounts for the last 10 years while restraining them from collecting taxes and development charges until the audit was completed.
It asked the court to direct the CBC and DHA to make sure that vulnerable people in the area who had been affected by the recent rains "are provided adequate shelter, resources, housing and safe relocation".
Residents protest outside DHA office
Meanwhile, residents gathered outside the DHA Karachi Head Office on Thursday to register their protest against the post-rain situation in the locality, as some areas remain waterlogged.
Containers were placed on some of the roads leading to the office while male and female police officials in riot gear were deployed at the site of the protest.
The residents, numbering in hundreds, protested against lack of services and drainage system. They also repeated the demands mentioned in the petition.
Additional reporting by Ishaq Tanoli