KARACHI: With the authorities finally gearing up to clear the encroachments along the Karachi Circular Railway track, there are fears that the exercise will ultimately backfire in the absence of a proper resettlement plan.
Notices and banners announcing the intention to remove the illegal structures have been put up in and around the area, ordering the patrons to vacate the land voluntarily before the drive begins.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Pakistan Railways officials admitted that there was some slack on their part. They also blamed the delay on the failure of the city administration to provide security cover.
For their part, officials of the transport department and city administration said that plans and efforts for the removal of encroachment along the KCR's track have been in process for the past two years, but could not materialise in the absence of a resettlement plan for those who will be affected by the exercise.
According to a 2013 survey report of the Japan International Corporation Agency (JICA), 4,653 families would have to be evicted for the revival of KCR. This figure is likely to be much higher now. The city administration has been reluctant to demolish the houses since the Sindh government has not prepared a resettlement plan for these residents. The city administration is fearful of public retaliation if residential encroachments are demolished.
In February 2017, on the instructions of Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, an anti-encroachment operation was carried out on KCR land near Aladdin and Safari parks which failed due to violent protests by the residents. Anti-encroachment operations in other areas too were only partially successful and were eventually abandoned due to political pressure. The KCR track stretches along 43.2 kilometres, which includes the main line of Pakistan Railway and KCR track with 24 stations.
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In April 2018, the Sindh chief secretary issued a notification through which a supervision committee, headed by additional chief secretary of the planning and development department and a task force headed by the Karachi commissioner, were created to prepare plans for the resettlement of the KCR affectees.
The committee and the task force met only once during a period of seven months and that meeting too was inconclusive.
According to officials associated with the project, the KCR project fell prey to politics between Sindh and federal governments and has been facing delays for the last 13 years. The federal government established the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) in 2005, which began working on the feasibility of this project based on funds to be provided from JICA.
A history of errors
In 2013, JICA had completed the feasibility for resettlement and restoration of KCR. The government of Japan also expressed willingness to grant loans, in which costs of resettlement were included, on easy installments. JICA stressed that resettlement be carried out according to international standards to ensure a good standard of life for the residents. The Sindh government, however, wanted to administer the project on its own with funding from JICA. The latter rejected this proposal.
Anti-encroachment drive: Govt moves to revive KCR
Later in 2016, on the CM's request, former prime minister Nawaz Sharif negotiated with the Chinese government and added KCR to the China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) projects and it was decided to hand over KCR to the Sindh government.
Many meetings were held in this regard under the administration of former railways minister Saad Rafique, the CM, and other officials, but they remained inconclusive. The federal government never handed over KCR land nor did they relegate KUTC to the Sindh government. Moreover, the final agreement between Pakistan and China regarding the project did not take place either.
A meeting was held in January 2018 between the Senate's standing committee and officials of the railways ministry where the removal of encroachments from KCR land, rehabilitation of affected residents and other matters were reportedly settled. It was also decided that the railways ministry will give KCR land to the Sindh government and in exchange the Sindh government will give the same acreage of land to the railways ministry. However, there was no follow-up on these decisions.
According to officials of the transport department, the KCR revival project and resettlement plans will face delays unless the Sindh government and the federal governments work on past decisions.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 11th, 2018.
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