Members of the civil society, academia, trade unions, media and intellectuals expressed on Tuesday serious concerns at large-scale demolition of houses and businesses during anti-encroachment operations in both rural and urban areas of Sindh. They said the drive has resulted in unemployment and homelessness.
Civil society members held a press conference in Karachi and highlighted some issues related to the drive through an open letter to political parties. They said the ongoing campaign is directly affecting the poor and middle-class families.
Urban Resource Center Chairman Arif Hasan said that financial experts and economists are of the view that these businesses contribute 30-40% to the economy of Karachi.
“Rs1.25billion — an estimated annual income — came from the encroached settlements at the Empress Market and its surroundings,” Hasan said.
Why these encroachments are there and what part are they playing in the economy?
“No urban planning has recently been done in Karachi and the city is spreading on its own,” the URC chairman said. He said there’s no designated place for cargo and bus terminals and wholesale markets, which is why the roads and streets of Karachi are being encroached upon.
Hasan, a renowned town planner, was in favour of providing proper space for unregistered stalls and vending carts.
He also highlighted another issue relating to the existence of ‘katchi abadis’ in the city. The Sindh government should regularize these settlements at once, he suggested.
“40,000 people were directly affected because of the operation to recover Karachi Circular Railway land,” Hasan said. “Another 3,800 houses are feared to be affected if the anti-encroachment operation resumes on KCR land.”
He said the government should find an alternative before displacing people.
“Displacing temporary settlements is not a solution as these people will move to another place,” the URC chairman said. “The process continues and ‘katchi abadis’ are established elsewhere.”
He said the government has many lands to make arrangements for people who have been displaced during the anti-encroachment drive.
“We have properly calculated that 8,000 displaced families can easily be settled on a 100-acre land,” Hasan said. The government can also help these displaced people build houses by providing easy loans, he added.
Tasneem Ahmad Siddiqui, who works with non-government organisation Saiban, noted that PPP founder and former premier Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto was also in favour of regularisation of ‘katchi abadis’.
Siddiqui lamented that no attention is being paid towards regularisation of these settlements in Karachi.
Why are katchi abadis established and why do people settle in them?
Siddiqui elaborated that a poor family hardly earns $2 (a little more than Rs300) per day for their livelihood and it is impossible for them to rent a proper house.
He said the government has also failed to introduce any housing scheme for the lower and middle-class people.
Karamat Ali, executive director of the Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research, requested the Supreme Court to review its orders to remove all encroachments in Karachi. A proper study should be conducted on KCR and encroachment issues with the help of experts, he added.
Sheema Kermani, renowned activist and founder of the Tehrik-e-Niswan Organisation, said anti-encroachment operations badly affected women. “They have been deprived of basic facilities like toilets and sleeping places.”
Kermani said many women suffered sexual violence due to non-availability of proper housing spaces. She demanded an end to the anti-encroachment drive.
The civil society members demanded the following things: