It was widely expected that Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed, who hails from Karachi, will take up issues regarding the metropolis after he assumes charge. Now the top judge is in town hearing cases against encroachment and local authorities are on their toes.
The Supreme Court has ordered to take action against any illegal constructions or encroachments in Karachi and demolish them within seven days. The top judge expressed displeasure that the verdict given in May last year, for the removal of encroachments, was not properly implemented. Federal and provincial authorities had struggled to remove all encroachments- particularly high-rise buildings.
The apex court also sought an update on encroachments along the route of the Karachi Circular Railways. The project remains shelved over a myriad of reasons including lack of funds, encroachments, rehabilitation of those dislocated, and politicking. The project could ease mobility woes to a large extent as public transport remains in shambles and a mass transit system is nowhere in sight.
The court is displeased that Karachi, rather than being a modern, advanced metropolitan city, is filled with slum dwellings. Removing encroachments remains an arduous task for authorities due to the absence of a follow-up plan when the demolishing begins. In the past, there have been spates of violence as angry residents clashed with authorities when evicted from their settlements. Those who have a claim often approach lower courts and issue stay orders.
There is a lack of clearly defined administrative responsibilities for managing the city and the absence of a development plan. The city is left with insufficient basic services and people have no option but to fend for themselves. They are also the first ones who face the brunt as the affluent class remains untouchable. There is no action against the powerful builder mafia who construct these illegal structures or the officials who advertently allow them.
When the shops outside Empress Market were leveled last year, the worst-hit were the workers whose livelihood vanished as they struggled to find alternative spots. Local authorities campaign against kiosks, street vendors and even hawkers. Apart from the social cost, the financial cost of the anti-encroachment drive should also be made public. Encroachments and illegal structures cannot be condoned but there should be a systematic campaign.
Karachi has grown exponentially and haphazardly in the last five decades. It may not be restored as per the master plan of the bygone era. Instead, it requires expert urban planners to help transform the metropolis at par with the modern megacities of the world. This requires political commitment which, given the disparities, remains a challenging task.