Top court orders NDMA to clear Karachi's nullahs within three months

AGP tells court Centre is mulling legal, constitutional options for city


Nasir Butt August 12, 2020
People wade through a flooded street after heavy monsoon rains in Karachi on July 27. PHOTO: AFP/FILE

KARACHI:

The Supreme Court directed on Wednesday the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to clear all stormwater drains in Karachi and remove encroachments from them within three months.

Hearing a case pertaining to encroachments in Haji Lemo Goth, a three-member bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justices Faisal Arab and Ijazul Ahsan, lashed out at the provincial and local governments once again over the city's condition.

The CJP inquired about the progress of drain cleaning in the city, to which Karachi Commissioner Iftikhar Shallwani said the NDMA had cleaned three of the 38 major nullahs.

"Why didn't NDMA clean all the nullahs?" asked the CJP, adding that no arrangements were made before the monsoon rains were set to begin. "It is the incompetence of the Sindh government that the federal government has to interfere in provincial matters."

Shallwani informed the court that illegal encroachments had been established on the port city's nullahs and the administration faced resistance while trying to remove them, while Sindh Advocate-General Salman Talibuddin too added that the city's peace was disturbed if anti-encroachment operations were carried out.

CJP Ahmed observed that it was a failure of the provincial government if it could not remove encroachments. "You have turned the whole city into a village. It is full of garbage, sewage and dirt."

Talibuddin maintained that Haji Lemu Goth would be cleared within two months, adding that this was the Sindh government's commitment to the court.

"Your commitment should be to the citizens but what have you done for them?" the CJP lashed out. "From Karachi to Kashmore, everything is in terrible condition and Sindh has become anarchic."

The CJP further expressed anger at the incomplete state of Sindh's development projects and the alleged corruption involving their funds.

"It appears the provincial government enjoys seeing the people in misery - law enforcement is not apparent anywhere, roads are constructed through public-private partnerships, mosquitoes swarm every street, sewage is flowing through the city while people use planks to walk across streets," noted the CJP. "Not a single rupee is spent [on the people]. The money just comes and goes."

When Talibuddin stated that the judicial orders had empowered the government to act in order to remove the encroachments, Justice Ahsan asked, "Why does the government wait for court orders instead of using its administrative powers to do its job? Will you wait for judicial orders to clean the nullahs too?"

The CJP too inquired, "If the Supreme Court is needed to restore the Karachi Circular Railway, build the roads, and remove billboards and garbage, what is the government's duty?"

Meanwhile, Attorney General of Pakistan (AGP) Khalid Javed apprised the apex court that the Centre was considering various legal and constitutional options for Karachi. He stated, however, that he was not in a position to comment on what steps may be taken by the federal government in this regard.

"Karachi is currently an orphaned city," he stated, adding that its destruction would destroy the country.

Irked at the Sindh and local government, CJP Ahmed remarked that they had done nothing for the people over the last 20 years. "Where is the writ of the government? Pakistan is among the countries better off in terms of resources. Do people on other countries have to approach the Supreme Court for petty issues like water and electricity too?"

The court directed the NDMA to clear nullahs and encroachments in their surroundings and submit a detailed progress report. It further ordered the Sindh government to assist the NDMA and resettle the affected residents.

The bench remarked that more tasks would be given to the NDMA in the future and adjourned the hearing until today (Thursday).

Bail denied

Separately, the bench rejected the bail pleas of former Fishermen's Cooperative Society head Nisar Morai and others in a case pertaining to the misuse of authority. It further directed the accountability court to conclude the reference within 45 days.

The CJP lambasted the prosecutor over delays in the reference and warned him of being sacked if the reference did not proceed.

The court also directed the investigation officer to present witnesses in court without further delay.

Razing encroachments

The court also directed the authorities to raze all encroachments on Kidney Hill Park premises after the petitioner claimed new encroachments, including a shrine, were being established.

CJP Ahmed told Shallwani to raze the shrine's foundation stone and submit a report, while the commissioner claimed the authorities did not accept the recommendation for the shrine's construction.

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