Dispossessed families protest influential builders’ illegal occupation

* Residents of Gadap, Malir and Dhabeji urge authorities to put an end to land grabbing by Bahria Town and DHA City

KARACHI: Dozens of families dispossessed of their homes and lands in villages apparently illegally occupied by influential real estate develops including Bahria Town and DHA City were accompanied by political activists at a demonstration held on Friday to press the authorities to uphold the law and constitutional rights of affected communities.

The protesters said the Pakistan People Party-led provincial government was colluding with the Bahria Town administration in depriving farming communities in villages in Gadap, Malir, and Dhabeji areas of their livelihoods.

The protest was arranged at Karachi Press Club by Indigenous Rights Alliance.

Residents of affected villages brought placards and banners with slogans against their dispossession as a result of development work underway for housing schemes of Bahria Town and DHA City.

Speaking on the occasion, Gul Hassan Kalmati, the coordinator of the alliance, said that the Malir Development Authority (MDA) and the Board of Revenue (BoR) project documents showed that between 9,000 and 11,000 acres of land was allotted to Bahria Town, whereas the real estate developer was illegally undertaking development work on over 45,000 acres of land.

“The company has demolished many historical places like Shah Latif Bhitai’s Takiya and historical graveyards. Malik Riaz in connivance with PPP leadership is forcibly evacuating villages.”

Other speakers included Yousuf Musti Khan, a central leader of the Awami Workers Party; Saami Memon, Manzor Solangi and Naghma Sheikh.

Referring to information shared with the National Accountability Bureau by the Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA), Khan said that Bahria Town was allowed to develop its housing scheme on just 1,330 acres, the rest of the land under development was in illegal occupation of the real estate developer, he said, adding that there were reports that the builder was now considering encroaching upon lands in Thatta and Jamshoro districts as well.

Khan criticised the provincial assembly and the government calling them as good as a rubber stamp since they were helpless against the influential builder. He said the MDA officials were conniving with the Bahria Town in its hooliganism with villagers. He urged the executive, legislative and judicial authorities to stand with the affected communities and take action against the builder. He said greed of a few crony capitalists was jeopardising social contract of state institutions with citizens whose lands and livelihoods were under danger. Public interest must prevail in the matter, he said.

Naghma Sheikh said that Supreme Court had forbidden Bahria Town management from working on more than 8,000 acres, therefore, development on the rest of the land was in violation of court directives. “The Police, MDA, Revenue Board and other governmental agencies are involved. in this scam. How can Bahria Town claim to have the land legally if land transfers were banned in the city in 2012, she asked, adding that in 45 villages the greed of real estate builders and contractors had resulted in demolition of cultural, religious and community infrastructure including mosques, temples, hospitals, and homes.

Sami Memon said that renowned Sindhi poets’ tombs and some historic graveyard were among the places demolished by the developer. “They have collapsed hills as high as 15 to 20 feet to make way for their plots,” she said.

Manzor Soolangi, an author, drew attention of the demonstrator to the agricultural crisis unleashed by unchecked and unregulated expansion of real estate settlements in the city’s suburbs. He said land used for cultivation of vegetables supplied to the city for decades was now being converted into residential and commercial plots in gated communities. “Very soon, we will have plenty of gated communities for the rich at the cost of ordinary residents’ wellbeing,” he said.

Other speakers said that most of the city dwellers were forced to find accommodation in unregulated slum settlements where there was not enough water to meet everyday needs, but a K-4 designed water line had been announced with its cost running in trillion of rupees for the new settlements. According to protestors, Bahria town was devastating Sindh’s demographyand destroying cultural practices.

 Published in Daily Times, February  10th 2018.