Making Karachi graceful again

  • Sindh government faces gruelling task

The two member Supreme Court bench hearing the case of Karachi’s illegal constructions on January 22 ordered relevant provincial authorities to demolish all unlawful buildings that have mushroomed across the giant metropolis and to recover state land in such cases. The Sindh Building Control Authority, which was, among others, at the receiving end of judges just indignation, was forbidden to issue NOCs for commercialisation of residential property without Environmental Protection Agency approval and also directed to restore Karachi to its four decades old splendour in accordance with original master plan. On Thursday, the court, continuing its crusading spirit, sought a detailed report within two weeks from provincial authorities on the steps they intended to take towards this end, which the Sindh Advocate General partially addressed. It further decreed that all commercial activities in buildings illegally constructed on military land lying in all Karachi cantonment boards should be discontinued, with the concerned board heads to report personally on next hearing date.

No doubt the ‘illegality’ issue in urban growth is a common denominator in most cities of the country, but unlucky Karachi has borne its brunt over the decades, courtesy the feared domination of the old London MQM in connivance with officials of regulatory bodies afflicted with the ‘minting-money’ mindset. It continued in the PPP’s reign, with Asif Zardari long being a proponent of Karachi’s ‘vertical development’. Infamous China-cutting, the construction of high-rises at every odd step and street, the gulping of prime government land, encroachments on parks and amenity sites, even railway lines, have all resulted in the chaotic urban situation that prevails today. To rectify it fully as envisaged by the court is a task comparable to the twelve labours of Hercules, but unlike the feat of cleaning the Augean stables in one day, even the fabled strongman would be forced to ask for more time and thoughtful planning in this case. Compensation to those whose houses are being demolished and businesses ruined, and their rehabilitation, poses serious humanitarian and law-and-order problems. Already, water cannons are being employed to counter violent protests, Sindh Local Government minister has talked of resigning if ordered to demolish thousands of Karachi buildings, and perhaps a realistic rethink may be considered.