Demolished lives

KARACHI has witnessed mass economic discrimination far too often, making the PPP’s ‘roti, kapra, makaan’ slogan seem rather aspirational. The misery of 9,632 families displaced in a flattening action in the name of an expansion plan for Gujjar, Orangi Town and Mehmoodabad storm water drains was noticed by Caretaker Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar on Wednesday. Prior to this, the top court directed the provincial government to disburse rent compensation to affectees within 30 days — they have been deprived of resettlement and recompense for two long years. But the monthly amount of Rs15,000 as rental support is hardly sufficient consolation for the destitution weathered by them.

Perhaps there isample reason to have reservations about the location of these settlements and the correlation between squatter colonies and urban flooding. But demolition operations must assume a more humane approach — chalking out impartial relocation schemes and payment plans — so that poor dwellers forced out of their homes are not at the mercy of the elements, without security, assets and access to essential needs. Every rash demolition increases the distance between the haves and the have-nots as authorities look the other way when vast, upmarket residential societies are constructed on land seized from hapless owners, including shacks purportedly built atop culverts. Interestingly, renowned architects and urban planners state that these roads beside Gujjar and Orangi Town nullahs did not feature on any Karachi master plan. Nevertheless, the fact that builders backed by powerful quarters will prevail is a foregone conclusion in the metropolis. The government would do well to follow elemental parameters — detailed surveys of houses, proportionate shelters and compensation. Also, a credible way to check mushroom growth of encroachments and katchi abadis is low-cost housing townships; these will also prevent similar recurrences over drains. But history shows that it takes repeated court orders for Sindh’s government and bureaucracy to stir in favour of those on the bottom rung of the socioeconomic ladder.

Published in Dawn, August 25th, 2023