KARACHI: The Supreme Court (SC) has placed a “complete ban” on the conversion of residential and amenity plots in Karachi into commercial ones, besides directing the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) to raze all illegal constructions across the metropolis.
“Who is allowing the construction of plazas, marriage halls and shopping centres in every street?” questioned Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who was part of the two-member bench, hearing the case related to the Evacuee Property Trust at the SC’s Karachi registry on Tuesday. “Does this city belong to their father that they can do whatever they want? Should we hand the city’s control over to the federal government?” he asked. The other judge on the bench was Justice Sajjad Ali Shah.
As the hearing commenced, Justice Ahmed raised the issue of conversion of residential plots, construction of illegal marriage halls, shopping malls and plazas. The court also barred the SBCA from issuing no-objection certificates (NOCs) for the construction of commercial buildings without the Environmental Protection Agency’s approval.
In its written order, released later in the evening, the SC bench noted that the SBCA Director-General Iftikhar Qaimkhani “admits that much wrong has been done to the city and such wrong is still continuing in that, amenity plots meant for parks, playgrounds and other amenities are being allowed to be occupied, converted and used for commercial exploitation”.
During the hearing, the court expressed annoyance with the SBCA DG, warning that he would be removed from the post if their orders weren’t complied with. “Go and demolish every structure that is in violation of the city’s original master plan and restore [Karachi] to its 40-year-old state,” said Justice Ahmed, besides seeking the Sindh government’s suggestions to restore the city to its 40-year-old condition. “Let the Sindh government take over the city if the local government can’t run it,” remarked Justice Ahmed.
The court asked DG Qaimkhani why he was clinging to his post if he was incapable of doing his job. “The SBCA officials focus only on minting billions of rupees,” said Justice Ahmed. “Your peon must be a millionaire, if not a billionaire,” he told DG Qaimkhani. “Have some shame. You only want the money and don’t care about this city even a little bit.”
Citing the examples of Jam Sadiq Ali Park and Abdullah Gymkhana, the court observed that illegal encroachments in the form of marriage halls, CNG stations and other commercial ventures had crept up across the city. It ordered the SBCA to clear the encroachments from Jam Sadiq Ali Park within four weeks.
At one point, the SBCA DG said that efforts to clear encroachments were under way and that the court’s orders would be complied with. To this, Justice Ahmed ordered him to “speak less” or he would be suspended. “You are just making money and saving it in American and Dubai bank accounts,” said Justice Ahmed.
DG Qaimkhani apologised again, saying the orders would be complied with henceforth.
The court also placed a ban on the conversion of residential plots to commercial ones. In its five-page-long written order, a copy of which is available with The Express Tribune, the court ordered a “complete ban on Master Plan Department of SBCA or any other authority of the City Government or Government of Sindh of allowing change in the use of land.” No such change of use of land shall be permitted, reads the order, adding that the order shall apply “across Karachi City, including cantonment areas”. The written order adds that “any building constructed in violation of the original Master Plan in the City of Karachi shall be ensured to be restored to its original position”.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 23rd, 2019.