Two rings and a man with a husky voice answered the phone: “Salam, Nine Zero.”
“Land grabbing complaint? Please hold,” was his reply as he connected the line to a man working in the Awami Shikayat Department.
“Complaint of land grabbing by Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)?” asked the operator in disbelief before turning to his colleagues and then getting back on the phone.
“Yes we are taking complaints. Where and when…?”
It’s official. The MQM is now taking complaints of land grabbing and encroachments made against the party.
On Tuesday, many English and Urdu newspapers ran a public notice from the party explaining that some individuals and groups were misusing the party’s name while grabbing and encroaching on land.
These people are entering into fictitious transactions, read the advertisement, claiming that the political party has no connection with these individuals or groups.
The MQM, which has been often been embroiled in controversies over land grabbing and encroachments, especially constructing unit and sector offices on open spaces and amenity plots, gave out two landline numbers where the public can complain and inform the party about such things.
“We wanted to let the public know that the MQM has no connection with any criminal activity,” said Rabita Committee’s Aminul Haque on why the party felt the need to publish a public notice. “The name of the party is being misused for land grabbing and other crimes.”
Although it is a ‘general’ notice, complaints of land grabbing and of the party name being misused echoes from Scheme 33, Surjani Town, Gulistan-e-Jauhar and Gadap Town.
“The badmash [thugs] of the area are using the party’s name because they know we are the biggest party in the city,” said Haque. “The Pakistan Peoples Party name is also being used.”
So far no complaints have been lodged on any telephone number. The party says it will make sure that once an incident is reported the police will be involved and action will be taken against those responsible. If it is learnt that one of the party activists was involved, the individual will be suspended and then his membership will be terminated.
MQM Deputy Convener Nasir Jamal believes that banned outfits are also involved in land grabbing and are supported by the land mafia. “For example in Gadap Town, the land mafia is heavily involved and the police or Rangers cannot enter the area,” he said. “We did our duty by telling the public that we are not involved.”
An activist from NGO Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment sees the party’s move as a positive one. “All political parties are involved in land grabbing,” he said. “Will other parties follow suit and try to turn over a new leaf?” He added that he was curious to know if the MQM would address previous issues of encroachments and land grabbing.
“We all know what happened to Hazoori Bagh in North Nazimabad - how it turned into a Shuhda colony and how residential houses are being built,” he said. “There are other examples of encroachments in Hawke’s Bay and other areas. Will they be willing to give them back?” According to Shehri, there is one party that started organised encroachment and others just followed suit.
Urban planner Arif Hasan did not comment on the party’s public notice but said that his report ‘Land ownership, control and contestation in Karachi and implications for low-income housing’ had the answer.
According to the report, “In 2004, the MQM, a political party representing the interests of Urdu speakers, captured every level of local government in Karachi, obtaining the patronage to acquire valuable land where it could settle its supporters and thereby control an important route into and out of the city.” In the report he used the example of Zubo Goth, Gadap Town, which was demolished in 2007 under the supervision of the Nazim of Orangi Town, with the stated aim to build a road (Shahrae Gaddafi) which was already available. The demolition of ‘rural’ villages thus allowed the urban poor to acquire land for housing themselves.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 10th, 2014.