KARACHI, Feb 9: A huge plot reserved for a park in the up-market Clifton area has remained under the illegal occupation of an influential person for over a decade, but the city government has feigned ignorance and said it did not know about the encroachment, it has been learnt here reliably.

The city government’s parks chief said that the plot in question, located next to the Federation House in main Clifton, is reserved for a park and maintained that it is in the city government’s possession. The CDGK sources, however, said that the city government top brass are probably hand in glove with the influential land-grabber and are waiting for time to pass so that the matter is forgotten, after which they could construct high-rise buildings on the approximately four-acre plot, conservatively valued at Rs4 billion in the open market, and mint money while Karachians would lose another precious open space to the greed of the ruling elite.

The sources said that over the years, a boundary wall has been constructed around the expensive plot near the CDGK’s recently developed Bagh Ibn-i-Qasim.

According to sources, a few gates, with “Bagh-e-Rustom” written on them, have been constructed. A few gardeners could also be seen tending to plants along the boundary wall, while a portion of the enclosure – which is usually protected by well-armed guards – remains undeveloped probably to fool the masses in general and the government in particular that a park is being developed.

Sources said that this was a widely practised and time-tested method of the land-grabbers, who, most of the time, worked in connivance with the land-controlling agency’s greedy officials: first the land was encroached upon and after some time a boundary wall was constructed.

When the matter did not elicit a hue and cry from the public a religious place was constructed to muffle any resistance from the public or the government and after the possession was not challenged, it was consolidated and eventually the encroached land was regularized, which the government did as a matter of routine under different schemes that it offered from time to time. After this, the land mafia and its partners in the relevant government agencies sold off the land and made a windfall.

The sources said that this land-grabber, however, seemed to be more cunning and did not consider the construction of a religious place a safe way to protect the encroached land, particularly after the government had raided some religious places following the Sept 11 incident, so he set up the façade of developing a park and had named it Bagh-e-Rustom so that the people and the government would continue to think that a park was indeed being developed.

The sources said that the influential land-grabber, having a lot of nuisance value, probably was of Persian origin as he had named the encroached parkland after the Persian legend of Rustom-o-Sohrab.

Responding to Dawn’s queries, the CDGK’s Parks and Horticulture Executive Director, Liaquat Ali Khan, said it is an amenity plot reserved for a park. “The city government has not given it to anybody under its ‘Adopt a Park’ or any other scheme and it is still with the CDGK, which plans to develop it shortly,” he said.

Responding to another question that someone had constructed a boundary wall and was trying to create the impression that a park was being developed there, he said that as the plot has not been given to anybody by the government, nobody could construct a boundary or develop a park on it.

“If someone wanted to develop a park, he should approach the city government. If the person is a genuine philanthropist and wants to serve the community, he could be given a plot under the ‘Adopt a Park’ scheme – which is open to all – or some other scheme so that a park could be developed,” he said.

‘Noble intentions’

However, till someone was formally handed over the plot – after entering a proper agreement – by the city government, taking possession of government land, regardless of how noble the purpose or the intentions of that person may be, is an encroachment and steps would be taken to get the parkland vacated from the land-grabber, he added.

“I cannot confirm if someone has encroached on that land, as officially and according to our records, the plot is with the city government. However, now that the issue has been brought to our notice, I will look into it. If someone has taken possession of the park, it will be vacated shortly,” said Mr Khan, who claims getting tens of acres vacated in Clifton, on which Bagh Ibn-i-Qasim had been developed and for which, according to him, he was given the Tamgha-i-Imtiaz.

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