HYDERABAD: There is no end in sight to mushrooming of illegal housing schemes on riverbed in close proximity to main dykes of Indus River as another big project emerges over 18 acres on the left bank downstream Kotri barrage while Sindh Irrigation and Drainage Authority or district administration appear least concerned to stop this hazardous activity.
The Hyderabad Development Authority (HDA) had approved layout plan of this scheme located under bypass bridge in 2019 but work on its construction has started recently. The Sida and Kotri barrage authorities have, to date, avoided taking any action against such projects, which can prove disastrous in the event of flood in the river.
Sida MD Pritam Das argued that regardless of the fact that the scheme in question was close to the main left bank dyke of the Indus but since it was launched on privately owned land Sida could not take any action against it.
The officer’s reply appears to imply that the construction of a housing scheme on the riverbed was allowed even though it posed threat to the main dyke during flood season. Besides, it will set a dangerous precedent for more construction of such schemes in future which will increasingly become difficult to reverse.
Irrigation authorities beyond main dyke used to build loop bund around cities to protect them during flood in the river. But these loop bunds in Qasimabad, Hyderabad city and Latifabad have been encroached upon due to official neglect.
The land falling between loop and main embankments has been encroached upon mostly by builders and land-grabbers. Some privately owned land was also located in this area, which can only be used for cultivation, according to rules, and not for raising any large-scale construction.
According to seasoned irrigation expert and former Sindh secretary of irrigation, Idris Rajput, the loop bund was built in the areas where main current [flow] of the river was at a distance of 3,000 feet from the main dyke.
He explained: “The area between front and loop bunds is called compartment which is to be filled with water for soaking of loop bund, therefore no construction is allowed in the compartment area”. In case the land was a surveyed property, its owner could be allowed only to cultivate winter crops after flood season ended, he said.
Sida MD in his March 3 letter had rightly drawn attention of Hyderabad commissioner to the illegal construction of seven housing schemes in flood zone (riverine area) in Latifabad but he did not mention the scheme in question, which was hardly 200 to 300 feet from the toe of left bank of the river dyke and could prove detrimental to the river during floods.
In another letter he pointed out to encroachment on seven acres of riverine area by a builder in Kohsar. “It may pose threat to Hyderabad and Kotri bunds as the builders have constructed illegal dykes. The illegal constructions need to be removed for the safety of Hyderabad and Kotri cities,” said the letter.
HDA director general Mohammad Sohail said that the scheme “Saima Riviera” on 18 acres and 14 ghuntas in Deh Sari of Qasimabad taluka was approved by HDA in 2019.
The May 2019 approval letter said, “it was examined” and competent authority was pleased to approve the layout plan of the sponsored housing scheme but it did not mention whether it was approved by HDA’s governing body or then DG himself. Development works for the schemes were being carried out without any check.
Citing bund manual of irrigation department, a sitting chief engineer who wished not to be named, said that such construction activity along the main dyke defied logic according to the manual.
“The manual talks about ‘borrow pits’ which means the area used for river related to soil work. Such construction activity along the main river’s left or right bank dyke can’t simply be imagined.
“And it is evident from the fact that even for borrow pits which the irrigation manual says shall be on river side of the embankment only and no excavation whatever shall be done on land side without written orders of executive engineer,” he said.
The manual said: “No excavation for a new ‘bund’ shall be done within 150ft of the toe of the bank on river side. From 150ft to 200ft borrow pits must not be more than 6ft deep and from 200ft to 300 ft not more than 8ft deep and beyond 300ft they can be of any depth”.
He said that according to the manual even “borrow pits should only be allowed on land side if it is absolutely unavoidable”.
Kotri Barrage Chief Engineer Haji Khan Jamali in his March 10 letter addressed to Hyderabad commissioner, director general of Sindh Building Control Authority and MD Sida also discussed unauthorised construction in the riverbed downstream Kotri barrage.
His letter said without naming any scheme: “Supreme Court has already passed orders in petition (No62/2010) filed by Ms Marvi Memon regarding ‘removal of encroachments from flood plains, waterways and flood protection infrastructure’”.
He said if any mishap took place he would not be responsible, therefore, permission for such schemes should be withdrawn and unauthorised construction in the riverbed should be stopped.
Supreme Court’s Flood Commission report released after super floods in 2010 pointed out that encroachment upon thousands of acres in the riverbed by influential persons and erection of private bunds, houses and other structures had led to breaches in the river dykes at Tori and Kot Almo during 2010 super floods, which had caused devastation on thousands of acres and rendered large populations homeless.
Published in Dawn, April 5th, 2022