Sindh and Islamabad are pitched against each other over two islands off the province’s coast: Bundal and Buddo. Here is a summary of the main developments so far:
September 1: President Arif Alvi signed a Presidential Ordinance creating the Pakistan Island Development Authority. The authority would develop and manage islands in Pakistan’s “internal waters”. Its job would be to continuously reclaim and master plan the specified areas. It would promote them as tourist destinations. Alvi promulgated the Pakistan Islands Development Authority Ordinance, 2020 on August 30.
September 13: APP reported that President Arif Alvi met investors and told them the Bundle Island project would bring in tremendous investment. The investors included Malik Riaz Hussain, Aqil Karim Dedhi, Arif Habib and Mahmood Moulvi. Fawad Mukhtar of Fatima Group, Gauhar Ejaz of Lake City Holdings, Shahid Abdullah of Sapphire Company and Mian Mohammad Hasan of US Group besides Tariq Rafi, Ahmad Tabba and Nadeem Feroz.
The Sapphire Company, however, denies that they are investing in the Bundal Island. They said it’s fake news
October 1: The job for the authority’s chairman opened up. But it appears that the chairman has already been appointed if we go by Prime Minister Office’s tweet for a meeting Oct 8.
October 7: A constitutional petition challenging the authority was filed by lawyer Shahab Usto in the Sindh High Court. Its hearing is set for October 23.
He has named the Sindh and federal governments as answerable in his case and they have been summoned by the court.
Usto wants the court to declare the ordinance illegal, unlawful and unconstitutional. He has asked the court direct the federal government to refrain from taking over the two islands.
Outside the court system, reaction was swift and angry. Barrister Zamir Ghumro tweeted that the islands are included in Sindh’s borders and the president cannot enact an ordinance on a provincial subject under Article 142.
October 14: On Wednesday, the Sindh High Court sought a reply from the federation by October 23 in a civil suit filed by academic Dr Kaiser Bengali and Khairunisa of the fishing community in Ibrahim Hyderi, on October 9. They wanted the court to stop the federal government for posting the advertisement for the post of the Pakistan Islands Development Authority chairman. This means that the federal government will post the job advertisements on October 15.
Similar attempts to occupy the islands were made in 2000 and 2006.
In 2006, the government gave Emaar Properties of Dubai the green signal on developing Bundal and Buddo for an investment of $43 billion. It was going to be called the Diamond Bar Island.
At one point Techno-Consult International Pvt Ltd in Karachi did surveys for the project.
After protests, the work appeared to have wrapped up.
By 2016, President Arif Alvi was tweeting a link to an old piece of unverified news, saying ‘Bundal Island off DHA is going to be ‘resorted’ with a big dev project of Bahria & EMAAR.’
— Dr. Arif Alvi (@ArifAlvi) June 13, 2016
Why these islands should be protected
Take a look at this orange image. It was tweeted by Dawar Butt shared an image to help explain how important the islands are.
— Dawar Butt (@theLahorewala) October 6, 2020
Nearly one-third or 23,150 hectares of Karachi’s 73,380 hectares of green cover is preserved inside the mangroves off the coast, including Bundal and Buddo islands. Any development around them will threaten that.
But more than that Bundal Island is actually a sandbank that is crisscrossed with water channels from the seaward side or south at high tide. Building on it would not only be an ecologic disaster but an economic one as the investors would lose out. One researcher who filmed from Bundal Island found themselves in chest deep water as the tide came in.
The islands are a mangrove ecosystem of intertidal sand flats that flood over twice a day. This place is home to and a nursery for many marine species. The sand banks naturally protect the Port Qasim channel entrance.
So if you try to build on such islands, you have to raise them. Architect Arif Belgaumi has pointed out that one way this happens is if you suck sand out of the surrounding area and throw it onto the islands. That also disturbs the natural habitat and ecology of the area.
Where can you see the islands
Filmmaker Mahera Omar’s documentary City by the Sea shows the islands. You can watch it here on YouTube.
Architect Tariq Alexander Qaiser has been documenting wildlife and ecology around the coast. His videos of the islands are here.
Sindh government’s stand
Members of the Sindh government and the PPP have said they are against the island authority.
On October 13, CM House issued a handout saying the Cabinet had discussed the islands. The cabinet once again called upon the federal government to withdraw the controversial ordinance. “No talks on the island would be held with the federal government until and unless the controversial ordinance was withdrawn,” it said.
An earlier version of the story erroneously stated that Dr Kaiser Bengali and Khairunisa filed a petition which was rejected by the SHC on October 14. A correction has been made. The error is regretted.