KARACHI: The Peoples Climate March (PCM) was about marching for clean air, for water, for looking into the housing crisis, for land rights, for an end to land reclamation, an end to demolitions, an end to forced displacement, and for putting a check on turning already dense areas into concrete spaces.

That’s what brought out some 25 organisations and many individuals to the Boat Basin, Clifton, for a peaceful march to Bilawal Chowrangi on Sunday afternoon.

They came with printed panaflex to support their demands, they came with handmade placards with messages such as Nalko main paani do (Put water in the taps), ‘Your greed, our death’, Tum karo tau development, hum karein tau encroachment (When you build, you call it development, when we do the same it is encroachment), ‘Remove weapons, private guards, tents’, ‘Housing crisis is a climate crisis’, Mahol nahi, nizaam ko badlo (Change the system to change the environment), etc.

Representatives of the Malir Expressway Affectees Action Committee were the first ones to arrive. Hanif Dilmurad, Azeem Dehkan and Haji Azizullah Memon spoke to Dawn about the planned Malir Expressway. “It is planned to connect DHA Phase-8 to DHA City [on Suprehighway]. There are 20 old goths in Malir that will fall prey to the expressway,” said Dilmurad.

“And not just the villages, even the historic system of distributing water to Karachi created by the British, the Dumlottee Wells, will have to be sacrificed. At least eight of the 12 wells fall in the path of this expressway along with the Samo Goth water pumping station,” he pointed out.

The exploited affectees of the recent demolitions around Karachi’s storm water drains also came and demanded for their inclusion in environmental decision-making and policy-making that involved them. “We are stakeholders and it is required by law to listen to us along with the concerns of experts during hearings and before taking drastic steps in favour of commercial projects,”

said one forcibly displaced protester representing the Awami Workers Party.

Muneeba from the Women Democratic Front said that in this society women were expected to stay within the four walls of their home. “But where does she go when you take away her four walls? What does she do without a roof over her head?” She questioned.

“In the name of development, the government is destroying nature. It is cutting hills, bulldozing villages to replace them with posh houses for the rich. It is dredging rivers for silt that filters the water. Thus it is killing our rivers too. It is taking away islands from the fishing community,” she pointed out.

Many fisherfolk also joined the protest to raise their voice about pollution in the sea and the government’s eye on their islands such as the Buddo and Bundal.

Appreciating the huge turnout, Dr Nausheen Anwar from Karachi Urban Lab said that it was very much needed. “It is an unprecedented and critical moment for climate change action,” she said.

Environmental activist Afia Salam said that it was great to see the coming together of different constituencies under the banner of the People’s Climate March. “Urban issues are integral to any conversation about climate change. It’s good to see people making their case in numbers,” she said.

Shahzad Qureshi of the Urban Forest said that it was about time that the people woke up to climate change. “We are already very late in climate awareness,” he said.

As more people arrived and were assembling themselves to march up to Bilawal Chowrangi on the service road of Khayaban-e-Saadi along Boat Basin, some police mobiles started arriving and pulling up too. At first it was thought that they were there to offer protection to the protesters, but then they blocked their path and informed them that they did not have permission to walk up to Bilawal Chowrangi. The protesters then stood their ground and marched up and down whatever little space they had on the service road while chanting slogans.

The joint demands of the 25 organisations participating in the march included an end to the demolition of working-class homes and villages and realisation of the right to shelter, the passage of a bill in reference to the affectees of Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, the Karachi Circular Railway and Haji Lemo Goth with the same urgency as displayed to protect buildings and the affectees be given alternative housing of 120 square yards based on the household size in their districts. Also, ceasing the planning and construction of roads in the affected areas and land be returned to the people.

They said that the Malir Expressway should be taken over to the left bank of the Malir river, which is vacant so that the agricultural land and houses of residents can be protected. They demanded a fresh survey for the project. They wanted the activities of the reti-bajri (river silt) mafia, which they say is working under the patronage of the government, to be halted.

They also demanded the removal of industries from Malir and Kathore’s agricultural and residential areas as they are not only dangerous for Malir, but pose an environmental threat for all of Karachi. They wanted projects of Bahria Town, DHA City, Commander City to be stopped and their leases cancelled.

They wanted the entire Indus Delta to be designated a Marine Protected Area.

They said that the transgender community had been rendered particularly vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination when accessing their right to shelter and safe housing so they demanded that the government set up a network of safe houses and community centres across the city for the community to run itself.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2021

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