Dozens of participants of the 'People’s Climate March' took out a rally near Karachi's Boat Basin on Sunday evening to draw the authorities' attention towards the adverse impact of climate change, particularly the perceived environmental disaster unfolding in Malir and adjoining areas — allegedly because of trees being felled and agricultural lands being destroyed to pave the way for mega housing projects.
Activists belonging to around 10 political parties and civil society organisations arrived near Clifton beach and tried to march towards Bilawal House but police officials prevented them from moving further, according to organisers and witnesses.
The move by the police led the march participants, who were affiliated with the Awami Workers Party, Indigenous Rights Movement, Karachi Bachao Tehreek, Malir Expressway Action Committee, Mazdoor Kisan Party and others, to stage a sit-in on the service road at some distance from the Bilawal House.
The marchers including men, women and children chanted slogans against Bahria Town Karachi, DHA Karachi, the occupation of locals' lands, construction of the Malir Expressway, destruction of agricultural land in Malir and Gadap, demolition of homes located on Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, and other issues.
Khurram Nayyar, an activist with the AWP, told Dawn.com that police had blocked the protesters' way with around 10 vehicles.
South Senior Superintendent of Police Zubair Nazeer Shaikh told Dawn.com that police had not "prevented" the march from moving; instead, police officials "engaged" the protesters.
"They were mostly young and educated people and when they arrived at Boat Basin, police officers engaged them in negotiations. They were told that they could not block the road and would keep the protest limited to a certain space," the officer said, adding that the protesters agreed to this and dispersed peacefully after Maghrib prayers.
Hafeez Baloch, an activist affiliated with the Indigenous Rights Movement, said the environment and green belts in Malir and Gadap were being destroyed because trees were being cut in large numbers, hills were being grounded and the area's gravel and sand were being excavated for housing projects.
He warned that these activities would likely cause an ecological disaster in the surrounding areas of Karachi. He said the participants had wanted to draw the attention of the PPP leadership towards the issue but the police did not allow them to move further, prompting them to stage a sit-in on the service road near Bilawal House.
At a press conference earlier this week, the organisers and allies of the People’s Climate March had said that the purpose of their event was to organise a people-led response to the environmental crisis with victims of climate injustice at the forefront.
On the occasion, they had also shared a set of demands including an end to the demolition of working-class homes and villages and the right to shelter of the displaced.
Another demand was for a bill to be passed in reference to the affectees of the Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, the Karachi Circular Railway and Haji Lemo Goth with the same urgency as was being displayed to "protect buildings". It was also demanded that the affectees be given alternative housing of 120 square yards in their districts.
They also demanded a transparent compensation process, and resolution of issues of identity cards, besides the constitution of a rehabilitation committee.