The men in Karachi’s Lea Market usually look forward to the Pakistan Super League but this year they are dreading it because they have been told their shops will be razed when the cricket championship ends.
“We will begin the operation as soon as the Pakistan Super League is over, since all the law-enforcement forces are deployed to maintain [its] security,” explained a director at KMC’s Anti-Encroachment cell, Bashir Siddiqui. The city is following court orders from 2018 to demolish illegal shops.
The Karachi Metropolitan Cooperation had told the shops to pack up last week as it says they are encroaching on a historic site. The old market is made up of three buildings and a clock tower dating to 1927. Lea Market was originally constructed for bazaars but as the population grew, shops and pushcarts started cropping up and began to conceal the declared heritage site. KMC spray-painted 702 shops and stalls with a red cross on Monday.
The problem is that the shopkeepers deny they are illegal, saying they have been paying the authorities rent for 30 years and have the papers to prove it. “Kill us before you bulldoze our shops,” said tea vendor Sahib Razzaq.
Others said that they would need an alternate space if thrown out of Lea Market. “This operation will eventually kill us economically and bring our families onto the streets,” said shopkeeper, Gohar Butt. Men like him are scared of their businesses meeting the same fate as an estimated 3,000 shops at Empress Market, Garden East, Khoury Gardens, Jehangir Park.
The shopkeepers argue that KMC is just putting a “band aid” on a bigger problem of congestion by removing their shops to please the court. The real culprits are the pushcarts and parked cars that cause traffic jams.
Urban planning and architecture academics have been critical of these operations. The shops spring back up in these spaces and the imposition of the state’s writ is just a way for it to make money off vulnerable small economies. In fact, shopkeepers claimed that they had bribed the KMC authorities to stay away.
“We paid Rs150,000 each just two days back to KMC,” said one shopkeeper. The shopkeepers promised another installment after the notification is taken back but the KMC spray painted the shops. For his part, director Bashir Siddiqui said that some political elements take advantage of the situation. “I’m not saying that they are all lying,” he said, “but I am sure someone has capitalized on their fears in our name.” He added that they had compensated over 2,700 people in the earlier demolition drives.
The shopkeepers aren’t convinced. Razzaq said: “Many among those [shop owners surrounding Empress Market] were my friends and used to be stable, but now they beg me for a couple of hundred every now and then to feed their kids.”