KARACHI: Amid the hue and cry over encroachments by small-scale traders and vendors on the bustling streets of Karachi, the more established encroachments tucked away in government or residential buildings seem to have gone unnoticed.
A two-storey building, next to the Allama Iqbal Government School, right under the Sohrab Goth flyover, boasts a Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) Road Safety Department sign to signal all is well. For frequent passersby, the sign is likely a welcome change as the previously abandoned building had regularly hosted drug addicts. The building had been stripped of its doors and furniture and used to be a safe place for addicts and vandals.
Now, if despite the sign, you should still wish to inquire about the building and happen to find yourself at its newly built doors, you would be greeted by the gatekeeper, Fazal. He will proceed to inform you that the building is being rented by an individual, Sarfaraz, who runs a non-governmental organisation (NGO). Be warned though, for you might just be greeted by the other occupant of the building instead. A dog which has been trained to attack anyone attempting to trespass and has made his dwelling in the courtyard.
Fazal will tell you that clothes and other items line the first two floors of the building. On further inquiry, he will tell you that these items are sent to the northern areas of Pakistan. What Fazal will fail to mention however, is that the building actually belongs to the provincial Department of School Education (DSE).
Once upon a time
The building lay abandoned and neglected for many years, which may be one of the reasons why it has been illegally occupied. The NGO, DSE and KMC all have different stories to tell about the building.
When the Sohrab Goth flyover was being constructed during the tenure of former city nazim Mustafa Kamal, some part of the flyover was supposed to pass through the land of the Allama Iqbal School. The Masoomia School established within the Allama Iqbal School campus was located within that area. Consequently, The Masoomia School was shifted to another place within the premises of the Allama Iqbal School campus.
However since the construction of the flyover and the roads in its vicinity, the city government has made a U-Turn below the bridge for the traffic travelling from Rashid Minhas road to Sohrab Goth. The office of the DSE which was also in this building was shifted to Gulberg Town where offices of the education department were regularly established. These officers run the administrative affairs of government schools of the concerned towns but the town office was shifted to Federal B area of Karimabad in a second building of the education department in 2012.
Meanwhile, the building constructed in Sohrab Goth was left at the mercy of the land mafia. It is now in use by a NGO which claims its presence on the premises is justified through an agreement with KMC.
The education department
When initial reports of the illegal occupation surfaced, DSE Litigation Assistant Director Nawaz Ali Shah took it upon himself to investigate the matter.
He too was met by Fazal at the gate and was informed that Sarfraz runs an NGO that sends various items, including clothes, to Gilgit-Baltistan. Shah was also told that the building had been rented from an individual called Musheer Haider.
Speaking to The Express Tribune, Shah confirmed the illegal occupation of the building. According to Shah, the relevant town officer of the education department has been apprised of the situation and it is now up to him to end the illegal occupation. Shah added that had the matter been in court then the litigation department could have been held responsible. He maintained that the building was the property of the education department and could not be claimed by any department of the city government’s much less an NGO.
DSE Special Secretary Abbas Dathio holds the additional charge of primary school director but he was completely unaware that the building has been illegally occupied. Dathio’s duties as special secretary keep him away from the Karimabad office, which may be just as well as it seems he is not particularly interested in the affairs of Karachi’s primary schools. He has never visited a primary school and neither has he taken any steps to improve the quality of education.
During the former primary school director, Mansoob Siddiqui’s, tenure it was frequent practice to visit all buildings associated with the department. Drug addicts would find abandoned buildings then too but were evicted soon enough as they department would be aware of their presence. Siddiqui currently serves as Sindh Private Institutions Director.
Alleged road safety project?
When The Express Tribune contacted Sarfaraz, the head of the NGO running its warehouse in the building, he claimed that the building was taken from the provincial education department and handed over to the city government in 2005. According to Sarfaraz, the NGO works with NED University on road safety and it took this building after an agreement with KMC regarding a road safety project.
When he was questioned regarding offices of DSE that were located in this building in 2012, Sarfaraz could not come up with a satisfactory reply. He maintained that according to an agreement with Karachi mayor and KMC’s technical director, the place was handed over to his NGO. He said that after the building’s restoration, work on road safety research will commence there. Sarfaraz claimed to have documents of the agreement which he promised to share with this scribe over WhatsApp. Despite assurances and the passage of an entire day, however, no documents have been received as of yet.
KMC denies NGO’s claim
To corroborate Sarfaraz’s claims, The Express Tribune contacted KMC Spokesperson Bashir Sadozai and KMC Technical Director Iqtidar Ahmed.
Sadozai said that KMC has no ongoing road safety project and has no links with Sarfaraz’s NGO. While Ahmed, KMC’s technical director, who was specifically mentioned by Sarfaraz, said that he has been on his post since May 23, 2018 and did not know of any such agreement made with an NGO during his tenure.
Ahmed said that if an NGO was making such claims then it should also furnish documents to prove the alleged agreement. Ahmed confirmed Sadozai’s claim that no department on road safety was active at KMC.
The administration of the Masoomia Government Boys Primary School located in the Allama Iqbal School campus has tried to submit a written complaint to Yusuf Plaza Police Station but the SHO did not register the complaint. The school administration then wrote a complaint and sent it to the police station via courier but no action has been taken so far.
The Express Tribune contacted the relevant SHO, Aneela Qadri, who confirmed that a request of the school’s head master had been received regarding illegal occupation. She said that the request was noted but no action has been taken so far due to her busy schedule. The SHO added that she had toured the area and believes the building belongs to KMC. Qadri said that she will attempt to resolve the issue after calling both parties and if the occupation was not resolved, the matter would be sent to court.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 12th, 2019.