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Bid to ‘evict’ islanders resisted

Fishing is an important means of livelihood in Karachi.—File Photo

KARACHI: Several employees of a developer, accompanied by armed guards, came to the fishermen living on a Korangi Creek island on Tuesday morning and told them to vacate the place as development activities were to begin there, but on resistance put up by the fishermen they left saying that they would return soon, said the fishermen’s representative.

Responding to Dawn queries, Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum chief Mohammad Ali Shah said nobody would be allowed to uproot the fishermen from the island in the name of development and the fishermen had decided to hold protests all over the province on Wednesday against injustices of the so-called developers out to destroy the ecology in the name of development.

The Port Qasim Authority has leased out two islands — Dingi and Bundal — located in the Korangi Creek to a real estate developer, Bahria Town (BT), a few weeks back to develop high-end localities there. Earlier, the BT had announced that a UAE investor was with it in the mega development project but when the news broke in the media and was widely opposed, the UAE investor backed out within days, causing embarrassment to the BT bosses. However, the BT brought in another investor, a US-based company, saying that they would jointly develop a city on the islands.

The move is widely opposed by civil society organisations in support of the fishermen living there and environmentalists for the protection of the mangroves. Even the Transparency International (Pakistan) has raised objections to the deal alleging that the BT management was a defaulter and heavy fines had been imposed on it.

Mr Shah said eight to 10 men, accompanied by around 10 to 12 armed guards, arrived in three to four boats on the Bundal island and told the fishermen to vacate the island as they had bought it, and a new city would be developed on the islands. When the fishermen did not comply with their command, the intruders threatened them that they would return and use force to have them evicted from the islands.

The PFF chief said that then those people boarded the boats and went to the other island, Dingi, situated nearby, pitched up a tent and sat there for an hour or so. Then they left. He said they were carrying some equipment, probably for measurement, but did not do any work.

He said that was not the first time as the fishermen had foiled an earlier attempt of the government to uproot them and give the islands to a UAE-based company in 2006 and that company had even built a few field offices, halls etc on the Dingi island. But the fishermen put up a sustained resistance and eventually the UAE company left. He said this time also the fishermen were committed to protecting their islands and would not allow the government to sell off the national assets.

He said the islands had thick mangrove forests, which the fishermen, with the assistance of an international organisation, had planted in 1990s. He said that a large number of fishermen fished in the sea near the mangroves, which served as nurseries for various commercially important marine life species, would be economically ruined if the mangroves were uprooted and the land developed into a city. He said the pollution to be created by the proposed city would further contaminate the sea. He said the mangroves also protected the coast from sea intrusion and the coastal communities from cyclones and tsunamis.

He said protest meetings would be held and processions taken out in all major towns of the province on Wednesday. In the city processions would be taken out in the coastal areas of Ibrahim Hhydery and Rehri on Wednesday afternoon to show the government that the fishermen would not allow it to sell off the national assets, and to expose the Karachi coast to sea-related dangers besides crippling the fishermen community economically.