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THE biggest challenge any development project faces is a human one. If well planned and executed by people who are humane, it attempts to minimise the displacement it causes. The people whose homes are demolished have to be, under the law, provided the same, if not better, facilities. It is also important that the process of displacement and resettlement is transparent. It must be seen to have been carried out fairly and justly.

None of these guidelines formulated by the UN Human Rights Commission were observed in Lyari where the expressway is expected to displace 24,400 families. More people have been displaced than was really necessary and the resettlement process has led to a major land scam in the Hawkesbay area (Scheme 42, Blocks 6, 9 and 10) and Taiser Town (Sector 35, 36 and 50). At stake are 782.6 acres (18,284 planned plots).

True, this exercise has offered a mixed bag to the people affected. The sites developed in Taiser Town, Hawkesbay and Baldia are neat, clean and offer the advantage of an open environment. It is said that when the Hawkesbay site for the Lyari affectees was launched in 2002 the displaced people were virtually dumped in the open with no water, electricity or gas. There were no regular bus services connecting it with the city.

But visits last month present a different picture. Taiser Town and the Hawkesbay sites appear well developed. They had electricity connection, sewage lines had been laid and homes had started receiving gas connections. The plantation — of course not enough to make the entire area lush green— was substantial by Karachi standards. Mr Shafiq Paracha, director, Lyari Expressway Resettlement Project, says planting trees is his passion. In Taiser Town and Baldia he has enlisted the help of Mr Mahmood Fatehally, whose farm also fell victim to the Lyari Expressway, to set up windmills to organize drip irrigation in these water-scarce areas.

Another positive aspect of life in the resettlement sites for those who are fortunate to get it is education. However it has not been easy sailing for everyone. There are not enough schools (and only one at the secondary level) though Citizens’ Foundation (TCF) schools and others are being upgraded gradually. This means that the older children have suffered, and many of them have given up their education.

According to Mr Paracha, the TCF has set up five primary schools in Taiser Town. The Baitul Maal has two primary schools at this site while there are six primary schools and one secondary institution for girls. As is obvious, this is simply not enough for the 10,000 families said to be settled there. The situation in Hawkesbay is no better. Six TCF, one Baitul Maal and six government schools (the figure is disputed by local activists) cater to the needs of 4,000 families.

One must give credit to the teachers and instructors involved with these institutions. They appeared highly motivated and fully charged -– it being unlikely that they could drum up so much enthusiasm for one’s benefit alone. More of their kind in government schools could transform the quality of public sector education in the country.

The huge numbers displaced have hiked the cost of resettlement to Rs4.6 billion, according to Mr Paracha. “We are still working with the funds provided under PC-1. The additional funds under PC-2 have still not come in,” he says. He gives the rough break-up as Rs900 million for land acquisition, Rs800 million for cash compensation, Rs400 million to the KESC for electrification, Rs1 billion for development, etc.

Given the wide roads, the neat grid-iron layout, and overall cleanliness in Taiser Town, Hawkesbay Scheme and Baldia (when it is settled), these sites contrast sharply from the conditions in Lyari.

Then what has gone wrong? Why are people selling off their plots? How is the land mafia taking over in a big way? This could have been brushed off as a rumour had not an afternoon spent making phone calls to estate agents — 22 of them — yielded rich information. They even have the temerity to advertise in the papers. They offered plots of all kinds, on all locations and of all sizes, and as many as one wanted, ranging from Rs150,000 to Rs400,000 per 80 square yards. The paperwork would be “pucca” but of course one would have to pay an extra Rs5,000 for that. Mr Paracha had showed this writer the allotment letter which bans the transfer of the plot allotted for at least five years. He says the allottees are asked to build a structure on their plot within three months. But there are vast unbuilt areas — yet to be allotted one was informed. Apparently, the land mafia has made a strong showing and knows how to bend the rules.

Obviously, those supposed to be resettled in these sites are facing problems that are so acute that they would rather sell off their plots and probably squat somewhere in the heart of the city. Some reasons are pretty obvious to a discerning visitor. Many of the evictees were so poor that they have found it impossible to erect even a roof above their heads with the meagre compensation of Rs50,000 they have received.

Many of the affectees have lost their jobs simply because they found the resettlement sites in Hawkesbay (15km from Merewether Tower) or Taiser Town (25km from Teen Hatti) too far from their workplace. Although one can see buses plying in these areas, people living there say that there are not too many of them around and the service doesn’t start very early in the morning. Those who had small businesses in Lyari are now sitting idle because there is not much commercial activity. Many of the shops were not even open. Lack of medical facilities is another major problem for the people. There is just one government dispensary in Hawkesbay which is reported to open for only an hour or two in the morning. For many the trauma of the loss of a social support network they were dependent on has been difficult to cope with.

Mr Tasneem Siddiqi, former director-general of the Sindh Kachchi Abadis Authority and known as the progenitor of the Khuda ki Basti, a housing scheme for the poor, is of the opinion that such sites should have some specific features that the Lyari resettlement project lacks. For instance, their layout must follow the cluster/bloc planning which creates a sense of community and serves as a social support system for the poor. Wide roads in an area where the people don’t have cars gives the message that the area is not for them. Mr Siddiqi says that the principle of incrementality must be strictly observed. Thus, an effective transport system and the external services (bulk water, electricity and sewage) must be there when people move into a scheme. But individual services should come in gradually as people start to live there so that they develop a sense of belonging. In Khuda ki Basti over 90 per cent of the allottees have stayed on and have not left, says Mr Siddiqi.

LESSONS: Since mega projects have emerged as the fashion of the day it is important that the government learns from this experience of the Lyari Expressway, which will cost Rs16 billion when (or if) completed. Already the city nazim has signed a deal for a 24-km elevated expressway from Jinnah Bridge to Quaidabad.

The most essential aspect is planning. Any project undertaken must justify itself. Other options — especially those costing less — should have been explored for their feasibility. Not only must the engineering plans be prepared in advance before the final contract is signed, planning should also include environment impact assessment and the human impact assessment as well as studies of changes in land use and the quantum of displacement caused. These should be undertaken before work actually begins. Since such projects take several years to complete, provision must be made to minimise dislocation caused in the period when the work is in progress.

It is important that where people have to be uprooted, scientific and standardised records are maintained so that there is transparency in the process of compensating them and no injustice is done. Above all, the surveys carried out must be open and the lists of the affected people should be made public and should be available to anyone who wants to check them. The Lyari Expressway seems to have failed miserably in this respect and has therefore led to a gross miscarriage of justice. Many rightful claimants were denied plots and others who had no right to a plot managed to get one.

The resettlement sites should be planned in such a way that people are not inclined to move out of it as is happening in Hawkesbay and Taiser Town. One wonders if the encroachers are busy creating a second Lyari somewhere in the heart of the city, if only people of means will move to these picturesque townships in the suburbs of Karachi

Finally, it is important in such multi-tasking projects where a number of departments are involved to pin responsibility for any work undertaken. What we have in the Lyari Expressway project is that departments are blaming one another for mistakes that have been made. That doesn’t help at all.