KARACHI: The Supreme Court has summoned today (Wednesday) officials of the federal and provincial governments, as well as Karachi Mayor Wasim Akhtar, to present recommendations on how they plan to resolve issues faced in clearing encroachments in the port city.
The SC bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Ijazul Hasan, was hearing a review petition, filed by the Sindh government, against the anti-encroachment drive in Karachi.
The approach of the Sindh government is that they want to give legal cover to the encroached-upon spaces, remarked CJP Nisar. Justice Ijazul Hasan, in his remarks, said that the operation must continue and if the momentum was broken, it would be difficult to resume the anti-encroachment drive.
Sindh govt’s stance
Sindh Advocate-General Salman Talibuddin maintained that the anti-encroachment operation was causing unemployment on a large scale. The court had given orders to clear Empress Market and its vicinity of encroachments, he said, adding that the Sindh government was trying to compensate the affectees by providing them alternative spaces.
At this, the CJP remarked that the court had ordered to turn Empress Market as a model for Karachi. The orders did not state that the operation had to be stopped. “The encroachments have been cleared and now the issue of providing alternative spaces persists,” he remarked. “If the first order has been implemented, then the provincial government should explain what will be done for the affectees,” the CJP said.
As the hearing commenced, the court lashed out over the absence of Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar and inquired about his whereabouts. Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan excused that the mayor may be late as routes leading to the SC had been blocked.
“Other people have already come. Did he (mayor) not know that he had to come to the Supreme Court?” the CJP questioned.
The mayor turned up at the court at this point and informed the bench that the local government had cleared the encroachments in and around Empress Market. The CJP said that the mayor has himself said that the authorities have been voluntarily clearing encroachments at the Empress Market. “We did not give orders at the time the mayor started this operation,” he said, adding that the order for clearing up the footpaths and roads was clear. “We were concerned about the law and order situation at that time too. We had directed the authorities to make Empress Market as a model. We want to ensure the right of pedestrians who walk on the road,” the CJP remarked.
The CJP questioned how the Supreme Court had worsened the law and order situation in Karachi. “How are we connected to this thing? The responsibility to provide alternate space lies with the government,” said the CJP.
Justice Arab said that the responsibility to clear roads and footpaths lay with the mayor. The CJP added that the government should make arrangements for rehabilitating the affectees by allotting them alterative spaces. “There are lots of problems over here,” the CJP said. “People have squatted on government homes and when we gave orders for their retrieval, a situation of panic erupted,” he added. The Governor had called the CJP, he recalled, pleading for the operation to be halted. “Should we spare the illegal occupants like this? Should we end the state’s writ if people start protesting? Should we bow down before the land grabbers? Should we leave Karachi like this?” he questioned. “We want to improve Karachi but your interests are coming in the way.”
AG Khan said that “we are Karachiites and we also want to see improvement”. To this, the CJP remarked that the Sindh government’s political interests acted as a stumbling block, in the presence of which improvement was not possible.
Spare the houses
Mayor Akhtar told the court that the authorities were implementing its orders but houses should be spared, to which the CJP said that the court had not given any orders for demolition of houses and the municipal authorities were doing it on their own accord, in which case it was not the court’s responsibility.
The mayor said that that had simply implemented the court’s orders and that only one building at Bagh Ibne Qasim was left. The building, he said, had armed gunmen guarding it and the matter was perhaps lying in the high court.
The CJP asked which land grabbers’ group was behind the building and said that the SC may summon for the file from the high court. “It should be heard loud and clear that illegal structures and encroachments will not be tolerated in any case,” he reiterated.
CJP Nisar asked the mayor to continue his work without any pressure. Turning to the advocate general, he said that there was no question of suspending the operation. The advocate-general requested for four weeks’ time to find some solution for the issue. The court said that mayor was claiming that they had not demolished any house. “They are breaking the shades and illegal shops,” the CJP remarked.
Mayor Akhtar said that he was personally monitoring the operation. “Tell us about a single house that has been demolished,” he asked the Sindh AG.
What followed was a heated exchange of words between the advocate-general and the mayor. The former claimed that the mayor had well passed beyond the shops. The mayor asked what he meant. The AG responded that he had been given the task to clear footpaths and parks.
The CJP asked the mayor to brief him about the obstacles he was facing in the operation. “If any court order is becoming a stumbling block, we can get the whole record,” he said. AG Talibuddin again asked the court to direct the mayor to suspend the operation for four weeks. The CJP rejected the plea and ordered the authorities to sit together and find a solution.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 12th, 2018.