Areas surrounding the Pakistan Quarters residential society bore the scenes of a mini-battlefield on Wednesday as a large contingent of Sindh Police reached the site to evacuate the premises as per the Supreme Court’s orders, only to find themselves faced by charged protesters.
In the clashes that ensued, as many as 30 people were injured, including eight police personnel, as the latter tried to clear the area using tear gas shells, batons and water bowsers.
When the police tried to enter the area, the residents started chanting slogans against the government and a scuffle broke out between the residents and police.
Police contingents used water cannons and baton-charged the protesters in an effort to disperse the crowds but faced stiff resistance as the area’s residents resorted to pelting stones and creating road blockades. All the roads leading to Garden area were blocked and traffic came to a standstill in the vicinity.
Later, an FIR was registered against 400 protesters, including Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P) leader Farooq Sattar, under sections 147,148,149, 86,353,427,283,504 and 337 of the Pakistan Penal Code. As many as 13 protesters were also arrested by the police.
One resident of Pakistan Quarters, Saadia, was watching the clash from her balcony as a tear gas shell dropped inside her home. “I grabbed my child and ran outside,” she told The Express Tribune, adding that the police should have at least taken care of women and children.
“Our women were so shocked to see the police making their way to our houses,” said an aged resident, Aziz Ahmed. “I was born in Pakistan Quarters and grew up here. My father was also a government servant,” he said. After his retirement in 2013, he said that he was given a certificate from the government in appreciation of his service and was also given a permanent residency status.
Call for calm
As reports of the violence started airing on national media, MQM-P leaders Amir Khan, Naveed Jamil, Farooq Sattar and Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) MPA Jamal Siddiqui reached the site to extend their support to the residents.
The Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah took notice of the incident and asked the police to withdraw from the site. Hours later, Governor Imran Ismail approached the Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar and asked him to reconsider his orders to get the premises evacuated. Subsequently, the CJP extended the deadline for residents to vacate the federal employees’ residences by three months.
Addressing a press conference, the governor said, “It was a very delicate situation because the entire area was turned into a battleground between police and residents. I approached the CJP who then realised the situation and deferred the evacuation until the next three months. I am really thankful to him,” he said.
Governor Ismail was of the view that the issue must be resolved without losing any precious lives. “On behalf of the federal government, I assure the residents that justice will be meted out to them. Let’s discuss this issue and seek a viable solution,” he said.
Meanwhile, the federal and provincial governments kept blaming each other for the incident. Chief Minister’s Adviser Barrister Murtaza Wahab blamed the federal government, claiming that the Pakistan Quarters was the federal government’s property, and that the evictions were being carried out on the orders of the Supreme Court.
On the other hand, PTI MPA Haleem Adil Sheikh blamed the Sindh government for using force against the residents. He said that the police department came under the provincial government, not the Centre.
Estate Officer Obaiduddin told The Express Tribune that 394 houses in Pakistan Quarters are under illegal occupation. “These residents have failed to produce documents before us,” he said, adding that other residents of the Pakistan Quarters had already turned in their documents.
He explained that the quarters are only given to incumbent officers or their widows. “We gave two months’ time to the residents to submit their documents,” he said, adding that those who were protesting were the illegal occupants.
Another official said that there were a total of 7,882 residential units, including both houses and apartments, in the federal housing colonies in Karachi, of which 4,268 units – over 50% – were occupied illegally.
The official explained that retired employees and families of deceased employees were living in most of these units. However, a few cases have also been reported, especially in Martin Quarters, where residential units were illegally sold by their earlier occupants to private persons.
“Many such residential units have also been illegally divided into two or more smaller units,” the officer said, adding that there are many cases of illegal constructions where multiple storeys have been built on a house. Some of the units have even been converted for commercial use.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 25th, 2018.