The government has decided to consult the natives of Thatta over the planned city of Zulfikarabad, following massive resentment on the mega project.
At a briefing organised in the Sindh Assembly’s committee room on Friday, parliamentarians belonging to the ruling party and its coalition partners expressed their reservations on the new city. It was then decided to launch a mass consultation drive from July 7 to hear the grievances of the inhabitants in the area and brief them about the significance of the project.
During the joint briefing given to provincial lawmakers, the ruling party’s office bearers and journalists, there were also calls for a constitutional guarantee to the residents – on the lines of the United Arab Emirates – for not giving voting rights to outsiders.
“We seriously fear that with the influx of population, the demography of the area will change and the natives will turn into a minority,” speculated Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) MPA Sadiq Memon from Thatta. Not only Memon, majority of the MPAs at the meeting, including PPP’s Dr Sikandar Mandhro and Mir Hassan Talpur, and Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Heer Ismail Soho, also raised the same issue.
The most vocal critics of the Zulfikarabad project, including PPP’s Sassui Palijo, Muhammad Ali Malkani and the Sheerazis of Thatta, were not present at the briefing, which got started with Sindh Assembly Speaker Nisar Khuhro saying a few words in favour of the project. He criticised the Sindhi nationalists also for being overly critical of the new city. While appreciating the proposed project, PPP Sindh General Secretary Taj Haider said that the authorities concerned have failed to present the real image of Zulfikarabad, which is being developed to give shape to the dream of Shaheed Benazir Bhutto. As the Karachi and Qasim ports do not have the sufficient capacity to handle the cargo, Benazir Bhutto had come up with the plan to establish the Keti Bunder port in Thatta, he said
The planned megacity is spread over 1.3 million acres in four southern talukas of the Thatta district. Around one million acres of the project are submerged in seawater during high-tide and will have to be reclaimed. Haider said that the proposed city’s master plan is being prepared and the work will start from the Shah Bunder taluka, where 60,000 acres have been earmarked. “Hardly 20,000 to 25,000 acres of it are private lands, and the rest is government property,” he added.
The PPP leader admitted that the grievances of the people and elected representatives are genuine, as the government has not yet informed them about the objectives and the importance of the project. “I assure the elected representatives of Thatta that natives will not be displaced,” he said. “If so, the government would redress grievances through compensation and alternative houses.”
When asked about the environmental impact assessment report of the project on the Indus delta, he said that an environment assessment will be conducted and the city will be eco-friendly. “I belong to Thatta and my people are not aware of what is being done in the name of Zulfikarabad city,” Soho said, as Haider completed his presentation.
PPP Tando Muhammad President Ameen Lakho criticised the PPP leaders and workers opposing the projects. “It appears these people have [some] other issues and are therefore opposing the mega project,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 30th, 2012.