KARACHI: The anti-encroachment drive, being conducted by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation and other civic agencies in collaboration with law enforcement agencies, entered its seventh day on Sunday.
The operation, which commenced at the Empress Market and its surrounding areas at 7am on Sunday, demolished over 1,700 shops in a bid to return the landmark to its original structure.
Some of the structures demolished on Sunday at the Umar Fruit Market, Pan Market, Parinda Market and Dry Fruit Market were almost five decades old and had been built and rented out by the KMC itself. These structures were add-ons to the original Empress Market building and had to be demolished as per the Supreme Court's orders.
During the operation on Sunday, large contingents of police and Rangers personnel were deployed in the area to disburse protesters and mitigate any untoward incident.
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Prior to launching the operation, the KMC had placed several banners around the city to inform and warn citizens about the demolition of illegal structures. Shopkeepers in several areas voluntarily removed sign boards, stands and other temporary structures around the commercial centers. However, others were skeptical about any such operation and did not act in time. While such warnings have been circulating for the past several years, it was only a week ago that the KMC's anti-encroachment cell finally launched the crackdown.
When the operation first kicked off in Saddar last Monday, shopkeepers took to the streets in and staged sit-ins in the markets' vicinities. Leaders of various political parties reached out to the protesters and pledged their support, assuring that they would communicate their grievances to the government and attempt to resolve the issue amicably.
On Saturday night, the KMC's anti-encroachment wing finally reached Empress Market for the operation. Police and Rangers personnel were deployed in large numbers to counter any attempt at retaliation.
Razed to the ground
On seeing the law enforcers cordoning off the area, the shopkeepers voluntary started clearing their shops. Initially, shopkeepers were given until 2am to take their belongings. However, the authorities extended the time after repeated requests by the shopkeepers and at 7am, the KMC's anti-encroachment resumed its operation using heavy machinery. It was not long before the whole market turned into a heap of rubble. No form of retaliation was seen from the shopkeepers at any stage.
KMC's anti-encroachment director, Bashir Siddiqui, also reached the site while the operation was underway. Commenting on the campaign, he said that the authorities were conducting the operation without any discrimination and would continue until all illegal structures and shops were demolished. The operation will continue for another 20 to 25 days and will cover every part of Karachi, he said.
On the other hand, shopkeepers at Empress Market complained that there a large number of illegal shops on all sides of the Preedy Police Station, opposite Tibet Centre. Illegal commercial centres as well as houses are built on the drain area behind the Frere Market and the government school. Similarly, a public toilet on Akbar Road was demolished to make space for a Union Office and shops. Several hotels built near Passport Office are also built on illegal land, one of the protesters alleged.
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Other parts of Karachi
Meanwhile, District East chairperson Moeed Anwar supervised the anti-encroachment drive conducted on Khalid bin Waleed Road.
The operation, carried out by the district's anti-encroachment staff and officials, demolished several illegally built parking ramps, while dozens of other illegal structures such as signboards and stalls were also removed.
Speaking about the campaign, Anwar said that the drive was initiated on the orders of the apex court. He expressed the hope that the authorities would be able to fully clear the mess, adding that those who had erected the illegal structures had been warned to voluntarily vacate or demolish any encroachments themselves. Failure to do so will result in the authorities demolishing the structures, he warned.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 12th, 2018.