KARACHI: The Do Darya food street is a must visit for everyone who visits the port city. For Karachi’s upper class, it is at least a monthly ritual to munch on grilled steaks at one of the many restaurants overlooking the Arabia Sea against a backdrop of waves crashing against the rocks.
But all this may change very soon. Tension has been brewing between the restaurant owners at Do Darya and the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) since 2013. Recently, news of shutting down all the restaurants at Do Darya stormed social media but the rumours are only partially true.
Do Darya is a popular spot and lies at a distance of around 3.5 kilometres from Village Restaurant on Abdul Sattar Edhi Avenue. Almost half of the stretch of road from the Village Restaurant to Do Darya has been recently covered by streetlights. At the end of the road is a cluster of restaurants shining like a beacon in the darkness that have become a city landmark.
Since streetlights have been installed in most of DHA’s Phase VIII, the area opposite the Do Darya is soon expected to become populated. That is the reason, according to a reliable source in DHA, that the housing authority wants to have Do Darya vacated. “The area has not been declared commercial,” the source told The Express Tribune.
In 2010, a few of the restaurants entered a licensed agreement with DHA for the operation of eateries along the shore. The agreement, according to the source, was for a period of two years, after which some restaurants obtained a stay order from the Sindh High Court (SHC) for four years in 2014. That stay order ends in 2018.
In light of the SHC’s order, the source said that the restaurant owners have started to vacate the area and DHA is taking over the place gradually. “Since this is not a commercial strip, the residents who are going to reside opposite Do Darya had reservations about the late night hustle bustle there,” the source explained, adding that their reservations were legitimate.
The other side of the story is slightly different. Only a few of the restaurants at Do Darya obtained the stay order against DHA’s eviction notice from the SHC in 2014, which is still in operation. Some other eateries entered into another two-year agreement with DHA in 2016 which will end by May.
Yahya, the counsel for alSajjad and Charcoal restaurants situated at Do Darya spoke to The Express Tribune on the issue. He said that the stay order they had obtained from the SHC is still in place – a copy of which is also available with The Express Tribune.
A letter was sent to the management of Sajjad Restaurant in March, 2013 with the subject ‘notice for vacation of licensed area’ with reference to the license agreement signed on May 6, 2010. A copy of the letter is also available with The Express Tribune.
According to the letter, upon the expiry of the actual two-year license period and the expiry of the further one-year extension granted on April 30, 2013, the restaurants will no longer be licencees. “You are hereby required to stop the licensed business and vacate the area where you were licensed to conduct your business,” reads the letter. It is also mentioned in the notice that if there is an advertisement for further licensing of the property, they may bid for it. However, this is contrary to what the source at DHA had said regarding the commercial status of the strip.
This also raises questions on how DHA allowed commercial activities for so many years in an area that has been designated as residential.
The SHC, according to the counsel, suspended the notice and issued the stay order. “The stay has no time limit,” the counsel claimed, adding that every month they pay rent to DHA through the court.
Meanwhile, the owner of another restaurant told The Express Tribune on the condition of anonymity that they were operating on more than one plots at Do Darya. The owner of one of the plots on which they were operating surrendered to DHA and left. “The DHA immediately took over that plot and tried to give an impression that all agreements and stay orders have come to an end,” he claimed, adding that the DHA only has possession of one of their two plots.
He explained that in 2016 they entered an out of court settlement with DHA and signed another agreement for two years so that they could recover their initial investment.
In 2017, he said DHA again served a notice on them to vacate the property and they again went to court and obtained a stay order. “The Do Darya strip has become a landmark in the city,” he said, adding that thousands of people will be unemployed if DHA evicts the restaurants. He requested the Chief of Army Staff and Chief Justice of Pakistan to look into the issue in the interest of the public and bar DHA from having the area vacated.