Residents want barriers removed from the food street
One of Karachi’s oldest and best known neighbourhoods, Burnes Road, is fighting the Sindh government in court over its deputy commissioner’s decision to turn the area into a blocked-off pedestrian food street.
On Tuesday, the Sindh High Court heard their petition against the decision to block the road from 7pm to 2am so that it becomes a ‘food street’. The court asked the Traffic DIG to submit a traffic plan by March 25. It asked about the number of roads, streets, and lanes that have been blocked, and options available to residents.
On January 10, the road was turned into a pedestrian zone, and the entry of vehicles on the two-way road from Fresco Chowk to Court Road was closed. The residents said that this has caused them “great hardship”.
“Was there any planning involved? Was there a mechanism in place? You just can’t do what you feel like doing,” Justice Muhammad Ali Mazhar remarked. “Why is there no mechanism? How will residents take their vehicles to their homes?”
Traffic DSP Muhammad Waseem told the court that they were working on diversions.
Justice Mazhar asked if it was even possible to divert traffic on Burnes Road. “Where will you divert the traffic to? Have you seen how narrow the streets there are? Can you even make a diversion there?”
He questioned how the government expects residents to reach home if the streets are blocked. “How will they go to the hospital?”
The judge remarked that the court is not against food streets. “You can open food streets on open grounds but you must think about people.”
Justice Amjad Ali Sahito said that the authorities should at least visit the area and see what is happening there before making plans.
Advocate Irfan Aziz, who is arguing the case for the neighbourhood, argued that the Supreme Court has ruled that main roads in the country cannot be blocked. This food street is in violation of the top court’s orders, he claimed.
Burnes Road, named after a British spy, is one of Karachi’s oldest food streets. Some of its best known names are Waheed Kabab House, Anwar Mutton, Karachi Haleem, Delhi Rabri House, and Agha Sajji.
On December 12, 2020 the Sindh government formed a committee for the “development and beautification” of the road, which was renamed Muhammad Bin Qasim Road after Partition. Very few people use that name.
The plan was to make a “traffic-free” food street, clean the area, solve its drainage, paint the façades of its heritage buildings, and install signboards.
Residents have said that this was done without taking them on board. They first filed a complaint with the chief secretary on February 3. Seven hundred residents signed the application but nothing was done.
Two residents, Shaikh Muhammad Aslam and Sheikh Muhammad Suleman, filed two different petitions in the high court in the second week of February.
They said that the food street has made their lives more difficult and they asked that it should be declared illegal and shifted elsewhere.
Aslam gave the example of one bride who had to walk all the way from Arambagh to the Siddiqui Marriage Hall because the road was blocked. The Memon Hospital and Sobraj Maternity Hospital are located here and the roads leading to them are blocked.“Our children can’t go play in the streets. Can you imagine how difficult it has made things for us?”
The area has been “encroached upon by the owners of hotels/restaurants,” they said in their petition. Their tables and chairs take up 80% of the road, Suleman said.
This is also against the orders of the deputy commissioner. When the original notification was posted, he promised that restaurant owners would not be allowed to expand their seating into the road.
Suleman and Aslam said that they have also been threatened by restaurant owners. “They told us that they would have us beaten if we filed a complaint against them,” Aslam remarked.
They said that a private organisation, called the Burnes Road Food Street Tajir Union, has issued them resident cards so they are allowed to park their cars near their homes. “Why do we need this when are homes are right there on the road? Who are they to tell us what to do?”
Mazhar Mughal, a member of the union, said that the organisation is responsible for solving the problems faced by the residents. “We had special stickers for them so they can park their vehicles outside their homes,” he told SAMAA Digital. “We also have an emergency plan in case something happens. An ambulance and paramedical staff have been kept on standby for the residents.”
He maintained that the decision to make Burnes Road traffic-free in the evenings has been taken positively by most people.