Hill Park in desperate need of restoration

Managers forced to use sewage water for gardening

The lake, with a fountain in the middle, is littered with garbage and its water nearly dried up. PHOTO: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS

KARACHI: Ashara Dana fondly remembers her first visit to Hill Park, situated on a hilltop surrounded by posh residential societies. Her favourite pastime there was throwing all her popcorns to the ducks swimming in a small artificial lake at the park's centre - a popular attraction for most visitors.

The park, spread over 61 acres, was constructed in the 1960s. It is still one of the few parks in the metropolis of over 20 million people.

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Over four decades later, the park, owned by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), is devoid of basic necessities. Dry grass and dull bushes have replaced bright roses and lush green lawns. The popular lake, with a fountain in the middle, is littered with garbage and its water nearly dried up.

With no boundary walls, the park has also become a den for drug addicts after dark, revealed a park official on the condition of anonymity.

Mujahid Ali, the park incharge posted by the KMC, told The Express Tribune that not a single drop of water has flown from the park's water pipes in the last two years.

Pointing towards the nearly dead grass, he said they have taken a connection from a main sewage line on Shaheed-e-Millat Road. "We water half the park one day and the rest the next day with untreated sewage water," he revealed.

A pump operator, requesting anonymity, said the smell of sewage water is unbearable. "Imagine what happens to us when the pipe leaks and a splash of dirty sewage water dampens our clothes," he said.

According to Ali, they have been forced to use sewage water since there is no treatment plant at the park and getting water from the Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) is next to impossible. He said the lake has completely dried up for want of water supply, and around five ducks have died recently due to accumulation of garbage inside the lake.

However, according to KMC's budget document for 2015-16, Rs2.7 million have been allocated for the lake's improvement and the same amount for laying an irrigation system at the park.

A guard revealed that the contractor who was supposed to carry out the work has run away after taking the renovation funds from KMC.

However, according to deputy director parks, Nadeem Hanif, no such thing happened. "The work has only been stopped due to lack of funds," he said, adding that renovations would resume as soon as the money arrives.

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On the use of sewage water for plantation, he said they have no other source of water. "We have written several times to KWSB to resume water supply, but nothing happens," he said.

When contacted, KWSB executive engineer for Jamshed Town, Muhammad Nadeem, denied halting water supply to the park as well as receiving any application for its restoration.

An environmental expert at the University of Karachi, Dr Zafar Iqbal Shams, said the use of sewage for watering grass could have several long-term harmful effects on people who come in contact with that grass. If a bird eats plants watered with sewage water, and those birds later are consumed by carnivorous animals, the result could be very deadly, he warned.

The park incharge, Ali, said they desperately need boundary walls as one half of the park is open. "Intruders steal plants, and sometimes parts of the waterworks," he said.

'Lost' cinema

In its heyday, the park featured an open-air movie theatre that used to play Pakistani classics. Muhammad Saleem, a 53-year-old resident of Qayyumabad who visited the park regularly in his youth, said "The thrill of watching the movie under the stars was unexplainable."

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Rana, a pump operator at the park for the last 40 years, said lack of official interest left the cinema in such a bad shape. He remembered that former local government minister Sharjeel Memon promised to revive the cinema during a visit to the park but no such thing happened.

Parks official Hanif said KMC was planning to handover a portion of the park to a private cinema company in the near future.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 2nd, 2016.

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