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KARACHI, Nov 14: The Karachi Port Trust (KPT) is moving ahead with plans to hand over a disputed property in the expensive Clifton area to a builder while the city government has warned people not to get involved in the project as it claims it owns the land, it has been reliably learnt here.

According to sources, the city government plans to develop a park on the disputed 20 acres along the Boat Basin Park while the KPT is expecting to earn approximately Rs20 billion from the project, dubbed the Port Shopping District, over the next five years.

The disputed land stretches from the sailing centre near the Bilawal Chowrangi almost up to Ziauddin Hospital and is sandwiched between the road connecting Clifton and Shireen Jinnah Colony and the eastern backwaters of the Karachi Port.

The KPT maintains that it owns the land while the city government insists that it had purchased the land from the KPT so it was now the CDGK’s property.

Some of the land for the proposed housing-cum-commercial project is to be reclaimed from the eastern backwaters, though the KPT maintains that the land will only be ‘realigned’ and not reclaimed, which is opposed by environmentalists.

Some time ago both the government organizations were almost engaged in a war-like situation when their armed guards took positions and tried to take/maintain possession by force. However, better sense prevailed and a potentially ugly situation was averted, as both groups decided to maintain the status quo and sort out the issue through negotiations.

Old dispute

Tracing the history of the disputed land, the sources said that when the erstwhile Karachi Development Authority’s (KDA) Scheme 5, Clifton, was planned nearly half a century ago, a piece of KPT land – approximately 638 acres – was also included in it and the KDA and KPT started negotiations on the issue. The land was divided into four pieces – piece A was 294 acres; B was 90 acres; C was 228 acres and D was 25 acres.

The matter was decided by the Karachi commissioner in 1967 and the KDA was to pay Rs4,000 per acre – approximately Re1 per square yard, to the KPT. However the then Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) objected and claimed that it owned two pieces – C and D, roughly 228 acres – of the land. The KDA stopped the payment for the disputed land, while the payment for the rest was made to the KPT, which continued to demand the rest of the payment also.

The dispute was again decided by the deputy commissioner (south) in 1988, who rejected the KMC’s claim and said that the land (disputed 228 acres) belonged to the KPT and the KDA should make the payment. The KPT continued to demand the payment, which was not made.

The KPT – getting sick of the endless waiting and also keeping in mind the prices of the land, which had appreciated significantly in the meantime – informed the KDA on Sept 22, 1994 that as it had not made the payment, the Boat Basin area – approximately 238 acres – was being resumed with immediate effect.

The KDA suddenly woke up and got the approval of the payment from its governing body on the same day – Sept 22, 1994 – and sent the cheque of the balance payment – Rs1.1 million – to the KPT on Oct 9, 1994, which the KPT has not en-cashed. So technically, the KDA claimed to have paid the amount while the KPT maintained that it had not received it, insisting that the land allotment to the KDA stood cancelled. The KDA over the years fenced the disputed land and developed a park – the Boat Basin Park – along the waterfront from Mai Kolachi Bypass up to the Bilawal Chowrangi. The city government currently maintains this park.

All seemed quiet until recently when the city government found out that the KPT had entered into an agreement with a consortium comprising local as well as international builders and developers for 20 acres along the waterfront between the Bilawal Chowrangi and the truck stand near Ziauddin Hospital. It was also claimed that the KPT had given away the land very cheaply.

Conflicting claims

Responding to Dawn’s queries the city government – successors of the KDA and KMC – officials said that the land belonged to the CDGK, which plans to develop a park on the land, and the payment had been made to the KPT. The city government, through a Nov 14, 2007 advertisement, has also advised people not to enter into any kind of agreement with any organization, department, agency etc., regarding the Boat Basin Park as the CDKG owned it and the land was notified as a park.

However KPT sources told Dawn that the port trust owned all the Boat Basin parkland that was within the fences. It had entered an agreement with a consortium – comprising Dubai-based developer and builder Al-Habtoor Group, local party Artistic Denium and others – and 20 acres are being given to it. Land would not be reclaimed from the eastern backwaters and would only be ‘realigned,’ they claimed, saying that environmentalists would be concerned if the word reclamation was used. The KPT was also not aware of the “land-use” of the disputed land under the master plan.

Another concrete jungle?

The developer would, with his investment, construct the Port Shopping District comprising shopping malls, offices, residences, entertainment outlets, etc. Over Rs48 billion would be generated from the project and the KPT would get its share of 41 per cent or Rs19.8 billion from the project. The existing Boat Basin Park will be taken back from the city government and will be given to the developer to develop a modern entertainment and recreation facility.

The proposal has been sent to Islamabad and after its approval the project would start in early 2008. The KPT officials, however, maintained that the port trust would not fight the CDGK and the issue would be settled through negotiations, as both the city government and the communications ministry, the parent organization of the KPT, were headed by people belonging to the same group.

The citizens of the city, however, feel concerned as they do not know how the issue will be resolved: will there be a park or will a concrete jungle consume the open space?