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Sindh govt to demolish Hawke’s Bay huts for beach project

Owners take KMC to court

SAMAA | - Posted: Jan 28, 2021 | Last Updated: 8 months ago
Posted: Jan 28, 2021 | Last Updated: 8 months ago

There are about 254 huts on the 5km Hawke's Bay strip.

The Sindh government is planning to invite private investors to develop Hawke’s Bay beach with three-star hotels and huts for which it has cancelled leases and is going to have to evict and demolish 254 huts.

This strip of beach is KMC land and stretches 5km and approximately 387 acres. It is flanked by beach owned by KPT and the Board of Revenue. The beach has an A, A1 and S series. A series is plots facing the beach and the others are behind it.

The plan is to for the Sindh government’s Public Private Partnership or PPP unit to undertake the development, confirmed DG Khalid Mehmood Shaikh. The government will hire a consultant to prepare a feasibility plan for the beach’s development. It is a lengthy process and will take at least six months before they can implement anything, he said.

The PPP unit in the Sindh government works on getting private investors to build public infrastructure. This is different from a government paying entirely to build say, a motorway, on its own. Under the PPP mode, a private company pays for and builds a motorway and gets its money back by charging cars to use it. The government oversees the motorway building and behaves like a watchdog. 

In the Hawke’s Bay case, the government will hold competitive bidding and prepare costing and a study for the project. It would then publicly issue tenders to invite private investors. Next, the PPP policy board would review proposals and make a choice.

The objective, according to Shaikh, is to provide people services like those you will find at beaches in other countries.

“Why should people go to Thailand and any other part of the world to enjoy a clean beach,” he said. “These facilities would be made possible in Karachi under the PPP beach development plan.”  

Karachi Administrator Laeeq Ahmed added that KMC will employ a chartered accountancy firm to evaluate the value of the beach sites.

The reason behind Hawke’s Bay development
It is no secret that KMC is poor. One of its big problems is that it is unable to earn money from its assets. The Sindh government has to keep giving it money to function. (This is also because the Sindh government has ironically stripped KMC of the power to earn in many cases).

In a bid to remedy this, we see that the chief minister has been making pronouncements. On January 21, he gave it a Rs170m grant to pay salaries and “vowed to make KMC a financially stable organization by giving it a workable financial model and reorganizing its various wings responsible for revenue collection.”

He said that KMC has valuable assets such as “beautiful parks in the city and huts along the beach” and asked, “Why was KMC not operating them on PPP mode so that they not only became a reasonable source of revenue for it but could be maintained properly.”

This gave the first public announcement, via a handout from CM House, that changes were afoot.  

By January 28, the PPP board approved the construction of an 8km Mauripur Expressway to Y-junction with a two lane one-way interchange at ICI Bridge. The idea was to provide speedy access to the beach, said the press handout. It would be completed in two years and it is believed it would bring an end to traffic congestion in the area. The PPP unit will now float tenders.  

Beach huts and leases

In December 2020, the then Karachi Administrator Iftikhar Ali Shallwani, who was serving as Karachi Commissioner too, cancelled the leases for the huts. The hut owners were told that their huts risked being demolished because KMC wanted the plots back. KMC asked the allotees to vacate the huts.

This is where it gets messy.

To put it very simply, all land is by default owned by the State. It grants the people permission to use it. This agreement is called a lease.

In KMC’s case, it gives people leases for plots on its land. The people pay a lease fee every year. The leases are renewed each year. According to the KMC Hawke’s Bay records, there are 254 huts built on its land. The lease fee for each hut was Rs16,000 per year.

Over the years, people acquired and kept renewing their leases and built huts on the plots. Up to 30 hut owners are local. They have had them for 35 years or so. They used to give Rs1,000 in the lease fee and they earn from it.

Some people use the huts for themselves and others rent them out to beachgoers. Baloch villages nearby have many families who have traditionally invested in building and maintaining huts and rent them out as a source of income.

In December, when the leases were cancelled, KMC gave the reason that hut owners had not paid the lease fee for three years, since 2017. The hut owners refuted this allegation. They said that they had gone to KMC but were told by its staff each time that they were not accepting payments because the lease fee was being increased.

“We are not defaulters, as the KMC officials were not accepting the fee challans from us over three to four years,” said Danesh Nausherwan Dubash. His family has had a hut since 1963. “They stated every time that they would accept the challans after the rates were revised.”

Jahanzaib Brohi, one of the Baloch villagers, who has owned a hut since 1975 and maintains others said that they would deal with a KMC officer called Tajdaar. “He said wait. In 2017 wait, 2018, 2019, 2020 wait. In November 2020, we were told to wait till January,” he said. “We trusted the KMC. The senior officers. We were fooled.”

The hut allottees say that they have been happy to pay for the leases. The rate used to be Rs1,000 and it was raised suddenly to Rs25,000, upon which they went to court. “Big people did the case,” said Brohi. “It was decided that Rs16,000 would be the tax and a committee would sit every five years and decide how much the tax would be increased. But since then no committee was made. And so we paid Rs16,000 till 2017.”

Brohi added, “Some people made pay orders so that there was evidence of the payment.” Hut owner Abdul Hameed added, “We have pay order copies. If you want to increase the tax—like you had to after every five years but didn’t—we would have paid.”

According to Dubash this was not the first time KMC had done this. In 2006-07, when Mustafa Kamal was the CDGK mayor, the same thing happened. The CDGK asked the allotees to vacate their huts for a Sugar Land City Project under a public-private partnership to revamp the Hawke’s Bay beach at the international level.

“At that time, the allotees went to court and got a stay order and we have done the same thing this time as well,” he added. “We are in court to protect our rights, as the KMC administration is doing adhocism.”

Dubash argues that KMC should have categorized huts into residential and commercial when it wanted to impose a tax or revise the lease fee. “A commercial tax should be imposed on those who rented out their huts daily,” he said. Roughly 100 out of 254 huts are owned by families who do not rent them out.

Bladen Wilmer Hawke, the 9th Baron Hawke after whom the beach is supposedly named
Bladen Wilmer Hawke, 9th Baron Hawke in July 1949. It is said that Hawke’s Bay is named after him as he had property on the beach. He worked for the Bombay Burma Company, according to peerage records. Courtesy: National Portrait Gallery, London

Is KMC being shortchanged?
Abdul Hameed is a Baloch villager who has been in the area for 25 years. He saved up money and made a hut with a one-year renewable lease in 1995.

“It came on TV, that’s how we found out,” he said. “We heard that we’ve made huts and are earning crores and are only giving KMC 16,000 rupees. And KMC will cancel the huts and hold an auction.”

KMC thinks that the villagers with leases are paying too little and are earning hundreds of thousands of rupees renting out huts. The villagers say that this a misguided estimation.

“If you rent them out, you can only do it Saturday, Sunday,” said Hameed. “No one comes in the week. We get Rs7,000 or Rs8,000. So please tell me how are we earning crores in the year?”

Brohi breaks down the finances. Hut daily rents range from Rs7,000 to Rs20,000. The hut owner has to provide a water tanker (Rs4,000), fuel (Rs3,500), cleaning services (Rs2,000), gas (Rs2,000). If the guests break anything, like a Muslim shower or tap, they have to replace it. And so, the margins are low.

“The biggest virus in their heads is that these people are raking in the cash,” said Brohi. He challenges KMC to put up a hut on Rs2,000 rent a day. He said he’d throw in the towel if anyone agreed.

The huts also require massive amounts of maintenance because of the rough weather. This is costly.

During the year, they can’t rent out the huts regularly. Mostly, people come during the weekend. It is only in the summer holidays when schools are out that they get people during the week. But then, during the monsoon months May, June, July, August there is a high tide and KMC sometimes says people can’t go to the beach.

Fishing is not allowed during the high tide, so an entire economy springs up in the monsoon months. The fishermen can’t fish, so they spread out along the coastline selling tea, biscuits, water, cold drinks at the beaches from Hawke’s Bay to Mubarak village. The camel and horse rides also come out as do the snake charmers.

There are about 12 villages whose incomes are tied to the beach including Haji Ahmed Goth, Wali Mohammad Goth, Lashkari Goth, Jamali Goth, Sumar Goth, Abdur Rehman Goth.

What about people who built huts
The KMC leases clearly state they are temporary and for one year (unlike the 99-year ones in the rest of the city). They also say that only a temporary hut can be constructed.

This is where men like Hasan Ali Khan have become stuck, and indeed anyone who has built a concrete hut. The problem is that someone sold him a hut for Rs8 million in 2018 and the KMC stamped it. “I have an endorsed sale and allotment agreement issued by KMC in the same year,” he said. He has documents such as the renewal of a temporary lease to occupy a plot, a possession order, a sale agreement and a transfer or mutation.

“If they are working on some kind of technicality that this land cannot be sold, the fact of the matter is that I paid,” said Khan.

All along the beach front, you will see RCC huts that were built over time—none of them are temporary structures. In fact, even the KMC has a hut. A drive along the strip will reveal that some are small humble constructions and others are veritable palaces. Many of them far exceed the sanctioned 120 square yards.

“A hut is a wooden shack,” says Brohi. “RCC is not a hut. The hut was made over time, two years. KMC, where were they when this was happening?”

In contrast, the villagers say that KPT is so strict that you cannot dare extend a foot. This land-owning agency also has a yearly fee but it charges by the square foot and its rate is much higher, approximately Rs120,000 a year.

“These are the same huts, KPT has them, the Board of Revenue has them,” said Brohi. “You have rent there as well. Only KMC says its tax is low. Now ask yourself what KMC is providing in order to charge tax?”

Interestingly, DHA faced the same situation along the Do Darya strip. It had given leases upon which the restaurants had erected wooden “temporary” structures but with permanent landscaping on the ground. The question is for any beach development what temporary can mean given that families need amenities such as bathrooms when they visit.

The court case
Hut owners have gone to court. One of the lawyers representing a tenant, Rashid Mahar, told SAMAA Digital that KMC has been accepting ground rent and the occupants have lease hold rights.

Mahar said their case against KMC has been filed on the these grounds:
KMC had issued “cyclostyle” notices to all 254 hut allottees. The notice stated that the tenants had not been paying rent since 1973, which is wrong. They were not given any solid reason or proper notice for the cancellation of their possession orders.

KMC was deliberately not accepting hut rent from the tenants for the last three years, in order to be able to say they were defaulters.

The tenants invested millions of rupees to build huts at Hawke’s Bay and now they are eligible for government compensation. “There are some rights of the people in a democracy to issue notices before an allotment cancellation or before bulldozing any erected structure.”

The next hearing is April 5.

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