‘We have neither roof over our heads nor land below our feet’

A large number of protesters gathered outside the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry on Monday to request the top court to continue the stay order on the demolition of houses around the city’s Gujjar Nullah.

The SC heard a petition filed by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) about the demolition of leased houses along the storm water drain. The KMC has been removing encroachments in coordination with the National Disaster Management Authority. The chief justice decided that encroachments will be removed in any case.

The Gujjar Nullah is one of the three storm water drains that are being widened to ensure smooth flow of rainwater. The other two are the Mehmoodabad and Orangi nullahs. The Sindh government had decided to remove encroachments around these drains after the monsoon rains in August last year caused urban flooding in the city.

Monday’s protest was organised by the Karachi Bachao Tehreek, a joint action committee of social activists, the Awami Workers Party, the Progressive Students Federation, the Women Democratic Front and other organisations.

A protester named Muhammad Abid told The News that all the residents have their KMC-issued leases with them. “How can the Supreme Court call these leases fake?” he said, adding that the top court needs to verify the leases at least. “If our leases are fake, then all the institutions of the country are fake.”

He lamented that the KMC’s anti-encroachment department is all set to demolish their homes in a few days after the SC’s verdict. “We have been told that in two days the rest of the houses will be demolished,” he said, adding that at least 4,000 more houses surrounding the Gujjar Nullah will be demolished.

As for those whose homes have already been demolished, he said that a few were given cheques worth Rs90,000 but others were not. “Depriving us of our roofs and then handing us a mere Rs90,000 — what kind of justice is this?” he sobbed. On Tuesday (today), he said, they will hold a protest outside the District Central deputy commissioner’s office.

Another resident, Erum, said they are consulting their lawyers. “Machines have already arrived outside our homes,” she said, adding that she and 10 other family members are living in a single room because the rest of her house has been demolished by the KMC.

Last week, she shared, KMC officials had further marked their houses. “We have neither roof over our heads nor land below our feet. If we’re illegal, why were we given leases in the first place?”

She said that they have not been provided any compensation by the government. She added that by revoking the stay order, the top court has deprived them of all hope. The Urban Resource Centre’s Zahid Farooq said they have been monitoring the situation of the Gujjar Nullah for a long time. He said that these affected families have invested their life savings in their houses.

“Different government organisations have settled them there. No one encroached any land. The government had leased them the land,” he pointed out, and demanded proper alternatives with all facilities for the residents.

Under the constitution of Pakistan, he stressed, the government has to provide shelter, jobs and education to its citizens, not deprive them of the basic necessities.

Published in The News By Oonib Azam 15 June 2021

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