KARACHI: Hundreds of people, whose houses have been or are being dismantled by the authorities to clear out the route for the long-delayed Karachi Circular Railway (KCR), took to the streets on Sunday to demand suspension of the ongoing anti-encroachment drive until arrangement of alternative abodes for them.
The Sindh government also expressed solidarity with the affected families, announcing that it was arranging their rehabilitation on an emergency basis.
Holding placards and banners inscribed with their demands, the protesters took out a rally from Regal Chowk. Shouting slogans against the government’s campaign, they marched towards the Karachi Press Club.
Civil society members and rights activists — part of the KCR Action Committee — also joined the rally led by committee’s chairman Haji Khan Badshah.
Rights activists Nasir Mansoor, Asad Butt, Arif Hasan, Karamat Ali, Zehra Khan, Safina Gul, Khizar Qazi, Farhat Parveen and Faisal Edhi joined the rally.
A big banner containing their demand reads: “Housing is a basic component of social protection.”
Mr Badshah said the government was obligated to ensure housing for all in its policy and principles of the Constitution.
He said no government had initiated any scheme to provide decent housing for its citizens since the government of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
“The poor and middle classes of Pakistan had to fend for themselves. People have been left at the mercy of private developers, who sell land at exorbitant prices, while other inputs of construction are already out of the reach of the common man.”
Other speakers at the rally said that the bureaucracy was supposed to work on the regulation of land and housing but it was utterly ineffective. They added that rampant unregulated housing was an evidence of the government’s failure.
The Sindh govt has promised to provide makeshift housing to affected families
“Most people who do not know about government regulations end up getting so-called illegal access to land, electricity and water. They are vulnerable, face eviction from their houses which they have constructed with hard-earned money,” said a speaker.
Protesters said they were not against the KCR, but a survey was conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2013 which had declared 4,800 housing units to be affected by the KCR project.
The JICA report recommended for providing alternative housing and livelihoods options to the affected people, they said.
They said a petition had been filed in the Supreme Court in which the court was asked to restrain the Pakistan Railways and the Sindh government from demolishing structures and evicting people.
Another petition was filed by town planner Arif Hasan and others on the same issue.
Call to halt demolition exercise
“Further demolition should be stopped with immediate effect until a plan for the rescue, rehabilitation and resettlement is prepared,” demanded a speaker.
He also demanded for compensation to be paid to the people affected by the demolition.
The petition maintained that proper planning for the eviction should be done before the eviction. Right of the residents that are guaranteed in the Constitution and in international conventions and covenants should be protected.
The participants said a committee had been formed to look into the matter after hearings at the National Commission on Human Rights’ Sindh office. But the committee was not currently functional.
They demanded that the committee be revived with inclusion of all stakeholders and tasked to provide immediate relief to the affected people, including provision of food, temporary shelter until the permanent shelter was provided, and compensation.
They demanded public hearings, broad-based consultations and rapid surveys be conducted to properly analyse the KCR plan and its possible impacts on communities.
The participants said as the demolition work along KCR route had affected a large number of women so there was a need to involve the Sindh Commission on the Status of Women.
Besides, many children living in the affected neighbourhoods were out of school, thus makeshift arrangements be made to provide them schooling.
‘Sindh govt stands by affected people’
Local Government Minister Saeed Ghani arrived at the rally with fellow cabinet members Imtiaz Shaikh, Murtaza Baloch and Barrister Murtaza Wahab and expressed the Sindh government’s solidarity with the people affected by the ongoing demolition.
“We stand by the people affected by the ongoing drive regarding KCR project,” he said.
“This issue has been raised with Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, who has already directed the Provincial Disaster Management Authority for providing makeshift housing to the affected families.”
He said the KCR was a vital project, adding the provincial government had requested the court to give time for eviction of people from the areas until alternative land was not provided to the affected populations.
Mr Ghani said the Sindh government was arranging for providing permanent residence to all the families affected.
“We ensure all affected families that the Sindh government has already begun a strategy for their rehabilitation on emergent grounds.
“We are trying to provide houses to all affected families with all necessary facilities,” said the minister.