KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Friday restrained the authorities concerned from demolishing structures raised on leased properties around the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs till the adjudication of the relevant case by Supreme Court.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi observed that the matter was already sub-judice before the apex court and the SHC had no jurisdiction to pass any order for interpreting judgements of Supreme Court.

The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) submitted in court that they had already approached the SC to seek explanation of demolition of the leased properties around both the nullahs and that the matter was fixed by the apex court for May 17.

When the bench took up a set of petitions filed against the ongoing anti-encroachment drive on and around the nullahs for hearing on Friday, the KMC, Sindh chief secretary and other respondents filed their respective comments and reports.

The lawyers for petitioners had drawn the attention of the bench to the Aug 12, 2020 order of the apex court and said they believed it was to the extent of removing encroachments in and around the nullahs.

They contended that the apex court in its order also directed the Sindh government to ensure rehabilitation of the affected persons/residents of the areas and all necessary facilities should be provided as required for rehabilitation of a civilised society.

The additional commissioner Karachi contended that the government has evolved a policy for the affectees and would provide Rs15,000 per month rent for two years for affected families and would also provide accommodations in the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme announced by the federal government.

The counsel for the petitioners argued that there was nothing mentioned in the order of the apex court with regard to the removal of those property occupants/owners who were granted 99-year lease under the Sindh Katchi Abadies Act, 1987 by the then city district government of Karachi.

They further submitted that the provincial and local authorities have planned to construct 30-ft-wide roads along both banks of the nullahs and this fact had not been brought to the knowledge of the apex court at the time of the passing this order and no permission had been granted for construction of such 30-ft-wide roads.

They informed the bench that the respondents had started marking for the demolition of the houses of the residents up to the extent of 30 feet on both sides of the nullahs.

The additional commissioner submitted that the process of construction of roads on both sides of nullahs was being planned and designed under the supervision of the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and it had given the task to consultants.

The counsel for the petitioners stated that this matter was already fixed before the SC for May 17 while lawyers for the respondents also confirmed the same, and said that the KMC had filed an application before the apex court get the order explained.

After hearing both side, the bench in its order said, “Parties to these petitions should place the relevant documents/material before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan. However, till the adjudication of the subject matter on the next date of hearing before the Hon’ble Supreme Court of Pakistan on the application already filed by the respondent/KMC, as referred to above by the learned counsel for the respondent/KMC, no demolition work should be done by the respondents to the properties in the area of which registered lease deeds for 99 years have been issued by the former city district government, Karachi the predecessor-in-interest of the KMC, as referred to above”.

The bench adjourned the hearing till May 18 and said that if any specific order for the demolition of leased properties in the subject matter was passed by the apex court, then order of this court would cease to have effect.

Some NGOs with around 45 individuals had moved the SHC stating that their houses near the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs were leased out by the KMC and other departments and now they were being demolished in alleged pursuance of the Supreme Court’s orders.

Earlier, during the hearing of some identical matters before a single-judge bench, the provincial authorities in a report stated that the NED University had recommended that the minimum width of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs should be 35 and 20 feet, respectively.

The report filed by the provincial law officer said that in order to ensure that no further construction took place on the right of way and improve accessibility, a 30-foot-wide road was proposed to be built on the shoulders of both drains under which new sewerage lines would be laid.

The report said that occupants of those houses built on 100 to 70 per cent of the required land would receive a sum of Rs15,000 per month for two years as compensation. It claimed that they would also be offered houses in the Naya Pakistan Housing Schemes at preferential interest rates.

Over 2,500 cheques amounting to Rs15,000 each have been prepared and handed over to the affectees of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs, it added.

Published in Dawn, May 8th, 2021

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