IT IS always the poor who end up paying the price for the questionable policies of the government.
On Sunday, a large number of children, displaced from their abodes situated along the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs, protested outside the Karachi Press Club against the demolition of their houses. The demolition was the outcome of a Supreme Court order after last year’s devastating rains that inundated Karachi, with storm-water drains resembling raging rivers.
Earlier in the year, the Sindh High Court had issued a stay order following a petition filed by civil society organisations and a few individuals representing home owners. It argued that these houses had been leased to the residents by the government at the time. However, the Supreme Court, while hearing the matter on Monday, disposed of the petition on grounds that land along these nullahs could not be leased by law. It instructed the authorities to continue with the eviction operation. Hence, the demolition of houses situated within nine metres on either side of the Gujjar and Orangi nullahs will continue. When this exercise is completed (before this year’s monsoon, according to the plan), at least 100,000 people would perhaps have been rendered homeless. As many as 21,000 children would be out of school and living under the open sky.
True, there is reason to be concerned at the location of these homes and the link between encroachments and urban flooding. But what has the government done to provide these dwellers, who have toiled all their lives to earn enough to buy the property offered by a previous government (albeit on dubious terms), with alternative housing? Though the government is now promising Rs20,000 per month for two years in lieu of compensation, it is hardly worth the adversity they have to undergo — even if the government provides the sum.
Resettlement itself under the Naya Pakistan Housing Scheme is far from certain with the project still in its nascent stages. Evicted people live under the open sky, without shelter, kitchens or bathrooms. There is no security for them. On the other hand, the authorities hardly seem to bat an eyelid when it comes to large residential schemes being built on land forcibly taken from poor landholders, including housing societies located on the outfalls of the drains supposedly blocked by poor working-class settlements. This is economic apartheid and might sow the seeds of class-based and ethnic unrest in the city. The authorities should reconsider their approach.
Published in Dawn, June 15th, 2021