Evictions along Lyari Expressway

Published February 18, 2002

DEVELOPMENT projects and programmes often give rise to vast scale population displacements. These displacements, at times, are a consequence of inappropriate choice of projects, narrow directioned design and rigid implementation procedures.

Usually such displacements- appropriately termed as evictions — affect the poor, helpless and politically-marginalized communities.

Once the state machinery sets out to undertake a project or programme to that effect, demolition of property, destruction of houses/residences and dislocation of communities becomes the natural outcome. It is ironic to note that foundations of developmental project are laid on the debris of the dwellings, businesses and occupation outlets of the hundreds of very poor people. From the road or bridge widening schemes to dams construction; creation of transit terminals to water headworks and from communication networks to express ways, the same process is repeated.

Most recently in Karachi, the Lyari Expressway Project is undertaken on the same premise. This project was conceived around 1989 by a group of citizens as an option for relieving the load of transport in the inner-city district of Karachi. It was proposed as an elevated transit way on Lyari river culminating into Sohrab Goth. This plan was presented to the then the KMC/ Sindh government officials who accepted it in principle. However citizen groups and some professionals raised serious concerns about its construction which was based on contextual research. Eviction of communities, businesses, educational and social facilities; anticipated rise in the atmospheric pollution level; lack of possibility of creating cargo/truck terminal spaces; already proposed and initiated project of Karachi Northern Bypass (as a parallel project to the Lyari Expressway itself and inappropriate location of congested Sohrab Goth as the terminal point of the expressway were some of the key concerns cited against the initiation of the project.

However, despite the logic, in June 2000, the government decided to construct the expressway Recently the construction activity began by evicting the settlements on the existing Lyari River. On 21 January 2002, with the help of law enforcing agencies, the bull dozing began.

The government is offering Rs50,000/- as compensation and a small piece of land outside the metropolitan limits. According to government’s estimates, the displacement drive will demolish 11964 housing units, 42 religious places (mosques, churches, mandirs) and 1035 shops/workshop/factories. However the community surveys and studies conducted by the Urban Resources Centre (a research oriented NGO) anticipate at least three times the damage calculated already by the government. In all, it is expected that about 200,000 people will be finally dislocated. 18000 children will have their education disrupted due to dislocation. Many families will lose their livelihoods.

The Lyari Expressway is a typical case in respect of settlement and evictions and raises many issues worth considering. One, the entire project has been undertaken in a totally non-transparent manner. Details of the project are not disclosed to the common people, even to the directly affected persons which raises concerns about the honesty of purpose of the implementing authorities.

Two, the design of the project envisages an unnecessary large width of the expressway. It is reported that the proposed width of the Expressway at Shershah is 860 feet while it is only 460 at Sohrab Goth where it is bound to culminate. It is feared that this extra land is being re-claimed in order to make room for high density high rise real estate development to benefit the builders and developers. Even the city nazim has shared this fear of the communities with the federal government / National High Authority.

Three, the economic fallout on the affected persons is not at all accounted for. Presently the average cost of each dwelling unit of 120 sq. yds is estimated as Rs500,000/- since they possess infrastructural connections also. However the compensation paid is only Rs50,000/- and the plot of land allocated is far away at the edge of Baldia town where provision of infrastructure is yet to be done. Also the rupture in the occupation pattern of the residents, education of the children and related aspects are not addressed.

Four there is no distinction made between a leased property and illegal occupation. Several community residents — who reportedly possessed valid lease documents - have also been treated like the so-called illegal occupants. The matter is sub-judice in Sindh High Court which has granted stay order up-til 13 February 2002.

Five, the entire startup of this approach is in violation of international and national conventions to which Pakistan is a party. The Habitat Agenda which was presented and unanimously approved in the United Nations Conference on Human Settlements in 1996 in Istanbul re-affirmed the universal commitment to full and progressive realization of the right to adequate housing. It was recognized as a compulsory obligations by governments to enable people to obtain shelter and the protect and improve their dwellings and neighbourhoods (Habitat Agenda, 1996: UNCHS). On another occasion in 1997 the United Nations Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (UNCESR) adopted a resolution against evictions. In conformity with these important UN resolutions the successive governments in Pakistan gave assurance of adequate and appropriate shelter to each and very citizen of the country. In stark contrast to these commitments, it is observed that evictions of the existing settlements continue to proceed unabated.

The foremost impact of evictions is a colossal loss to the community investments which is like a deathblow to the poorer cross-sections of the society. The economically disadvantaged groups of our society can only afford to invest in homes as their only lifetime asset.

If it is razed down without any appropriate compensation, then such communities / households never recover from the economic backlash caused by such acts. It so happens that when these poor people invest their hard earned savings into upgrading their shelter, the administration comes with bulldozers to demolish their hearths? This act, which is usually ill-planned, badly timed and ruthlessly executed, is in total disregard of the codes of social justice.

It is estimated that the evictions of settlements for Lyari Expressway may cause a cumulative loss of over Rs.2 billion to the poor who reside in such settlement.

The immediate outcome of evictions is the enhanced shelterlessness. It is a problem which the government agencies have failed to solve. None of the eviction drive was able to offer a suitable resettlement location for people to reside. The presently offered choice of plots in Baldia Town is expected to be no different. Thus the evictions only add gravity to the overall issue of shelterlessness by destroying people’s abodes.

Evictions display the practice of social and economic injustice which is rampant in our society. It is a usual case that the development projects begin causing destruction of poor people. Seldom it is observed that the houses and property of affluent and powerful are touched. For instance, many illegal high-rise structures have been built in both planned and unplanned areas of the city. However since powerful people and lobbies were behind such construction activities, no effective action was ever taken against the builders involved.

Psychological disturbance that results due to the evictions is yet another key factor. The people who experience eviction undergo a terrible trauma which adversely affects their social behaviour and economic performance. Children and women are also badly affected which change their social and economic orientation.

The issue of eviction focuses many fundamental aspects. It raises the primary question about the validity of development. The concept of development needs to be redefined. That is to say it has to be established what is development and for whom the development is actually targeted. If by creating a development project a few people are benefited at the cost of a large number of people then the whole concept of such development has to be challenged.

Similarly if a development project simply generates a short-term gain at the cost of infinite misery to a settlement and its inhabitants then development needs to be realigned. The other important question is of equal rights. If eviction and displacement of population becomes justified on legal and administrative grounds then it has to be made applicable for the entire city and its people irrespective of political influence and connection, socio economic status, performance and relationships.

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