This story begins in the days when Ayub Khan was in power. He had a passion for urban planning and a deep dislike for katchi abadis or informality. It was on his watch that a new law called the West Pakistan Municipal Committees (Property) Rules of 1962 was passed, and was ultimately used to herd street-cart sellers from around Karachi into the area around Empress Market.
The new law gave the City Council the power to parcel out space and the land manager of the then Karachi Municipal Corporation gave the hawkers their papers. Their rent would be Rs100 a month and they officially became KMC’s tenants. Ibrahim Kaka’s father became one. “I was in my 20s when my father bought a shop in Umer Farooqi market, which was built by KMC next to Empress Market,” he says. As proof he has a bank challan from 1968 for Rs 2,500, which included an advance payment.
That shop was demolished on Saturday for being illegal—fifty years after it was allotted.
Ibrahim Kaka watched it happen. He now sits by the rubble with scores of other shopkeepers who were also caught up in what the city government said was an anti-encroachment operation. “We had dedicated our entire lives to this market,” he says. “KMC came and just bulldozed our livelihoods.” This is how the markets for parrots, melons, Kashmiri chai and nutmeg, nested in the wings of the colonial-era market were unceremoniously removed last week.
Around 3,000 others have been razed to the ground around Empress Market, according to KMC’s Municipal Commissioner Dr Saifur Rehman. The Supreme Court ordered the city to do it.
It started on November 8, 2018.
“The authorities gave us three-hour ultimatum. No letter, no notice,” says the general secretary of the market association, Muhammad Rizwan. Some banners had been put up in Saddar before the operation started but they only mentioned encroachments on footpaths.
The shopkeepers protested and tried to buy time for two days, until the commissioner held a meeting with them. According to Ibrahim Kaka, they were told they had to vacate the property peacefully. “We couldn’t confront the state,” he says.
Umer Farooqi market on one side and the paan market on the other. The dry fruit, egg and bird markets behind Umer Farooqi market. The vegetable and poultry markets at the back. They were all torn down.
The question everyone asked was simple: if the city had given this space around Empress Market out for shops in 1968, and the original hawkers became tenants, why were they suddenly being called encroachments?
General secretary Muhammad Rizwan says that initially their shops were called cabins and they operated commercially around Empress Market until 2005. That year, mayor Niamatullah Khan converted the cabins into proper shops. A notification was issued to make it official.
From 1993 to November 2018, they paid KMC rent every six months. “Currently we’ve paid rent till December 2018, but our shops were still destroyed,” Rizwan says. “After all these documents and challans how come KMC calls us encroachers?”
This opens up a legal conundrum. If there were any kind of tenancy agreements they have to be looked at because they were not necessarily cited or presented to the Supreme Court, cautions Dr Noman Ahmed, Dean of Architecture at NED University.
“The picture that was painted in official forums was that these shops and stalls were completely illegal,” he says. According to him, KMC should have asked the land department and reviewed the legality of such an operation.
“The bird and pet market have been there for a considerable amount of time,” he adds. “The second-hand clothing market, the kite market, the dry fruit and spice stalls, many of them in their own right actually constitute a kind of a heritage in themselves.”
Meanwhile, KMC, according to Municipal Commissioner Dr Saifur Rehman has formed committee to compensate the legal tenants who could not be given another place for to relocate. For his part, he said that it was wrong for KMC to allot such pieces of land if it was illegal. “We cannot [allot] anything at the cost of the general public,” he says.
As for the shopkeepers who had stocks worth millions of rupees, the government should have given them six months and another space, for as Rizwan puts it: “After all, we were legal tenants.”