KARACHI: “We have no voice in this democracy. And others, including the media, are silent spectators to our misery as the roofs over our heads are bulldozed,” said Nighat, an affectee of the Gujjar Nullah operation.
She was speaking at a press conference called by the Joint Action Committee of social activists at the Karachi Press Club here on Tuesday.
“No information is shared with us regarding what is to become of us or where we are to go, and when we come out to protest, they register FIRs against us,” she said.
Naseem, a Korangi Nullah operation affectee, said that during the operation in his area, two people suffered heart attacks. “One of them, my friend, succumbed to his attack,” he said, holding his late friend’s photograph in his hand.
‘The affectees are also citizens of Pakistan’
“Besides the pain caused to us poor people there will also be 10 mosques that will be razed if the plan is to be followed. And in Korangi the distance between the drain and the homes is far enough. They are demolishing homes to create room for two roads on either side of the nullah,” he said.
Zahid Farooq of the Urban Resource Centre said that the plan for the cleaning and broadening of the storm-water drains includes the destruction of 14,000 homes and 3,000 shops. And it is to culminate before Ramazan. “This will be like a replay of what we saw two years ago when some 1,100 people were left homeless due to the Karachi Circular Railway operation. But the affectees of this developmental work at the Gujjar Nullah, the Mehmoodabad Nullah and the Orangi Nullah, are citizens of Pakistan also. That makes them the state’s responsibility,” he pointed out.
“Even in times of war, there are breaks allowed for celebrating religious festivals. Many of the affected here are also Christians, and Good Friday and Easter are just around the corner now. We urge the city government to at least stop the operation during those religious holidays in order to allow these people to celebrate their festivals in peace,” he said.
“We are not against development or progress. But we demand that there be a proper survey carried out of how many affected people there actually are as a result of all these operations and these stakeholders also be included in the decision-making process. There are more than one family living under a roof. Therefore, counting the houses cannot provide the actual number of the affectees,” he said.
He recalled that in 2019, the chief justice of Pakistan had ordered the relocation of the people living around the KCR land ahead of the operation, which did not happen. And in 2020, Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also spoke of relocating the families affected by the operations around storm-water drains but that also did not happen. Another thing that was pointed out was that there has been no environment impact assessment done ahead of any of the operations, which is a requirement.
Nasir Mansoor of the National Trade Union Federation said that instead of providing poor people with housing, this government is snatching the roofs over their heads. “The living conditions of these people weren’t good anyway and now they are to deteriorate further,” he said.
Asad Iqbal Butt of the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said that taking away these people’s homes may have very diverse effects such as an increase in crime and worsening of the law and order situation here.
Architect and town planner Arif Hasan said that these people living by the nullahs or storm-water drains are not doing so by choice. “It is because this is what they could afford. The places were also leased out to them,” he said, meaning that they are not really encroachers.
“But the development planning has all been done without carrying out a proper survey,” he said, adding that the plans should also be shared with the people who are being affected by it.
He also said that the people need to be properly compensated to enable them to find alternative places to live and they should be given land to build new homes.
“The issue of housing is a big issue in our country. We are seeing more and more people sleeping on footpaths and pavements now. We didn’t see that earlier,” he said while regretting that no one here even raises their voice about the plight of the people losing their homes.
“Pakistan is also a signatory to so many United Nations conventions on human rights and even the UN is silent on this grave violation of human rights. We have also taken so many loans from foreign organisations that are also silent. Still, what is happening is cruelty against humanity. The government here seems to be against poor people,” he said.
Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2021