Feb 22, 2009

‘I Own Karachi’ — and can sell it!

KARACHI, this increasingly ravaged city, has a dire history of the conversion of amenity plots to commercial and residential use.
Virtually every ‘ruler’ or administrator has left his mark on the exploding metropolis by giving away what was not his to give — public spaces and civic-use plots that were planned by experts for the common good.
At the Corporate Summit on Climate Change held in Karachi last Thursday, the city nazim Mustafa Kamal told a gathering of some 200 businessmen, industrialists, environmentalists, academics and NGOs that he had learnt that day for the first time of the importance of the environment. He admitted to being unfamiliar with the Environment Protection Act 1997 and with the effects of climate change.
He welcomed an offer from Leadership for Environment & Development Pakistan to assist him in evaluating his development strategy and his proposed solutions to the city’s problems, including mass transportation, treatment of 400 million gallons per day of raw sewage presently being dumped into the sea, and the management of 10,000 tons of garbage generated daily.
Coincidentally, whilst the nazim was speaking at the DHA Golf Club, members of the MQM were passing a City Council resolution at the KMC Hall, barely eight miles away, converting over 40 acres of amenity space at Sewage Treatment Plant-2 in Mehmoodabad (located at N24o51’6’, E67o04’27’ on Google-Earth) into a housing colony.
This was done despite the protests of opposition members who foresaw ‘horrible devastation’ if land assigned for a treatment plant expansion was swallowed up. They explained that many previous attempts to misuse and convert amenity spaces had been struck down by the courts.
In July 2008, a similar illegal conversion (‘commercialisation’) of a 2.5-acre space on the Clifton beach was attempted by the City Council treasury benches (over the objections of the opposition members) for use as a five-star hotel-cum-shopping complex. Earlier this month, a blitz of ads in the press announced the auction of the beach plot for a reserved price of Rs119 crores.
With seven others, I filed a case in the high court of Sindh. It was explained to Justice Gulzar Ahmed that Clifton was the only beach promenade in the city, and was protected under law as an amenity space to be used for public recreation. On recognising the merit in the argument the good judge suspended the auction that was to be held on Feb 17, and issued notice to the city government. Now, residents of the area, especially those with beach-front apartments, must join the fray to protect the environment and the beach.
Over the past three years, our City Council under the slogan ‘I Own Karachi!’ has passed a number of resolutions converting the status of parks, playgrounds, public building plots and amenity spaces to residential and commercial use. Auctions or encroachment/conversion of such spaces are the order of the day. I have attempted on several occasions to bring these flagrancies of the law to the notice of Nazim Mustafa Kamal.
In some instances, individuals and community groups in affected areas have filed petitions in the high court and have obtained ad-interim stays. Herewith a partial list of amenity spaces in the city under attack by various mafias.
Kashmir Road — China Ground (five acres); Kashmir Road — KMC Sports Complex (2.5 acres); 148/1 Tunisia Lines — Webb Ground (five acres); ST-1 North Nazimabad (two acres); North Nazimabad — Green Belt (1.5 acres); K-28/108 — Gutter Baghicha (480 acres); KDA Scheme No.32 — Kidney Hill Park (62 acres); Mehmoodabad — TP-2 (40 acres); ST-10, ST-9/1, ST-9/16 Gulistan-i-Jauhar (one acre); ST-9 Block-A North Nazimabad — Bagh-i-Baber (three acres).
ST-5/1 Block-E North Nazimabad — Hazoori Bagh (1.35 acres); ST-5/2 Block-E North Nazimabad (2.03 acres); ST-5/4 Block-E North Nazimabad (two acres); ST-4 Block-D North Nazimabad — Bagh-i-Dilafroz (three acres); ST-1 Block-1 North Nazimabad — Bagh-i-Dilkhusha (three acres); Block-L Sector 11 Orangi Township — Al-Mehran Ground; ST-3/B Block-6 Federal ‘B’ Area (one acre); ST-5 Block-14 Gulshan-i-Iqbal — DC (East) Office (8.3 acres).
ST-36 Block-3 Clifton — Clifton Beach Promenade (2.5 acres); ST-13 Sector-6/F Block-6-F Korangi — Mehran Town (2.27 acres); ST-14 Sector-5 Block-6 Korangi — Mehran Town (2.26 acres); ST-15 Sector-5 Block 6-F Korangi (0.87 acres); ST-17 Sector-5 Block 6-F Korangi (0.41 acres); ST-18 Sector-5 Block 6-F Korangi (0.41 acres); ST-20 Sector-5 Block 6-F Korangi (one acre); ST-21 Sector-5 Block 6-F Korangi (0.95 acres).
To repeat, as has been repeated time and again, amenity plots and spaces are established for the public welfare and common good of all citizens. They cannot be converted or used for other purposes.
The very concept of establishing a housing colony on an amenity park plot is an anathema, especially in a situation where there is a severe paucity of open spaces, parks and playgrounds for the burgeoning population of this city.
When Enrique Penalosa, the well-known and well-regarded former mayor of Bogota, Colombia, visited Karachi some weeks ago he rightly asked what our future generations of congested city residents will be able to do when they find that we have greedily occupied and converted most of our parks, playgrounds and open spaces. What will they think of us, their forebears?
That we were uncaring, selfish and rapacious, our greed for money never slaked? He pointed out the obvious fact that wealth and other assets can be created in future, but eaten-up open spaces and parks once meant for the beneficial use of citizens can never be recreated.
If the city government needs money to run its functions, it must be raised through taxes or other legitimate means, not through the illegal sale of land notified for amenity and public purposes.
My team and I are tired of battling increasing gangs of marauders determined to lay waste to Karachi — as millions of citizen bystanders, who should know better, look on silently. Perhaps the superior courts will take suo moto notice of this rape of the city and ask why the applicable laws are being brazenly flouted. Perhaps the ‘silent majority’ will become ashamed of their apathy and act.
Is our city, and its open spaces, not worth saving?

By Ardeshir Cowasjee

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