KARACHI: Spread over 4.5 square kilometres, Machhar Colony is believed to be the oldest and the largest slum area of Karachi.
The neighbourhood is home to more than half a million people, as suggested by a senior official of the deputy commissioner office, with hardly any planned facility of daily necessity.
Also known as Muhammadi Colony, it was once the hub of alien population of the city mostly comprising Bengali and Burmese, majority of those over the years have got themselves registered with the national database and acquired local identity.
The population is largely associated with the neighbouring fish harbour and Karachi Port Trust as labourers.
Residents are apprehensive about government’s relocation plan for them
Living in uninhabitable environment for decades, the dwellers of the slum are hardly aware of the fresh development announced by Minister for Maritime Affairs Syed Ali Zaidi on Saturday.
While announcing to build the Karachi Coastal Comprehensive Development Zone (KCCDZ) that will spread over 640 hectares on the western backwaters marshland of the KPT, the KCCDZ will revamp Machhar Colony resulting in relocation of its more than half a million population.
It is not yet clear what lies ahead for the slum dwellers.
Though the federal minister has announced that the residents of the Machhar Colony would be offered alternative housing under a resettlement scheme, many of the residents are apprehensive that whether the government plan to move such a huge population will meet a success or not.
“There are 20,000 or 25,000 families living here [Machhar Colony],” said Shahab Alam, an area resident, who questioned the minister’s claim that the government would relocate the families from Machhar Colony to build the KCCDZ.
Mr Alam is a socially active and known personality in the locality due to his association with the community organisation Karachi Bengali Forum.
He was not fully aware of the KCCDZ plan and saw it with suspicion and believed that it would be a tough job for the government to meet the desired results.
“We don’t even have drinking water here,” he said. “We live in narrow streets which are carpeted with garbage and our children roam around amid blanket of flies and mosquitoes. It would be good if we are offered better place but it should be a fair deal. We can’t afford any deception in the name of development. Even amid the worst living conditions, we don’t want to get thrown out from here [Machhar Colony] in the name of development only on the promises of alternative place to live.”
Mr Alam’s concerns reflect the challenges which may arise when the government finally launches the KCCDZ but the sketchy plan doesn’t elaborate the areas along with Machhar Colony which will be affected in the city’s coastline revamping project spanning over 1,500 acres.
“Every project sounds good on paper,” says Mr Alam. “The real challenge comes when it is applied over the ground. It’s not the first time that we have heard anything from the government for Machhar Colony and its people. From [General] Zia ul Haq to [General Pervez] Musharraf we were told about the promising plans and rosy pictures were shown but the fate of Machhar Colony and its people have never changed.”