THE closing act in the battle over the 15-storey Nasla Tower in Karachi has been set in motion. On Monday, the Supreme Court ordered that the structure be vacated by today and demolished through a controlled blast within a week; given the Sindh government admits it does not have the expertise for such an operation, there are valid safety concerns.

A three-judge apex court bench had found in June that a sizeable part of Nasla Tower had been constructed on encroached land meant for a service road and ordered it to be torn down. The fate of the building was sealed when the court dismissed a review petition by the owners/builders last month and gave the occupants a month to move out. Suffice to say, many residents’ dreams of having a home of their own will be buried underneath the rubble of Nasla Tower.

Addressing the massive land-use irregularities prevalent all across Karachi — encroachments on amenity plots, unauthorised allotments, illegal construction, etc — is a laudable undertaking. The precious real estate of Pakistan’s financial hub has for some years become a theatre of blatant racketeering. Many government functionaries and unscrupulous builders have given short shrift to regulatory laws and connived to make illegal profits and deprive state coffers of due revenue.

However, one cannot ignore the human suffering that often results when trying to right these wrongs, many of which are decades old. This aspect was also highlighted on Monday when the Supreme Court bench expressed its displeasure at the Sindh government over its lack of progress in rehabilitating the thousands of families displaced following demolitions along the Gujjar, Orangi Town and Mehmoodabad nullahs. Moreover, when the writ of the law seems to be enforced selectively while some offenders ignore the apex court’s rulings with impunity, the sense of injustice is further sharpened.

Consider that clearing of encroachments has by and large taken place on land administered by the Sindh government. Structures illegally built in cantonment areas continue to remain standing despite orders dating from August 2018 onwards to pull them down. To discourage such practices, authorities who have enabled the encroachment on public spaces by giving people electricity and gas connections should be held accountable and punished. And this accountability must be applied without exception across all areas of Karachi so that all the many land-owning agencies in the city know that ‘institutional clout’ cannot afford them any escape.

Published in Dawn, October 27th, 2021

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