As the city grows, the villages disappear


April 21, 2010

KARACHI: Hundreds of goths have been absorbed into Karachi as the city witnessed major development in the past few years.

Shehri - Citizens for a Better Environment, a nongovernmental organisation, pointed this out at a seminar titled “Encroachment of Land: Case Studies from Rural and Urban Karachi” at the NED University of Engineering and Technology on Tuesday. “About 100,000 plots of land are created from the illegal encroachments of goths in Karachi every single year,” director of the Orangi Pilot Project, Parveen Rehman, said.

She explained that according to surveys there are over 1,600 goths in Karachi but only 803 are recognised by the city government. The remaining ones have become easy targets for illegal land suppliers in the city, who are able to occupy and sell the land with the help of friends in political parties, the government, the police and through sheer coercion.

Rehman added that much of the violence seen in Karachi is related to the encroachment of goths, and that all of the major political parties are openly involved in the practice. “It may appear as though political parties are engaged in battles at higher levels but the fighting does not last long,” Rehman said. “All political parties are partners on the ground.”

Explaining the methods through which these villages are encroached, she said that the land mafia approaches village elders and offers to purchase the goth unofficially. “The village elders described it as a choice between a black snake and a yellow snake,” she said. “If they do not accept the offer then it is likely that the village lands would be encroached upon by force or that the goth would be eliminated.”

The villagers thus sell the land in an effort to save the goth. The practice has now become so common that unofficial land suppliers openly advertise the plots they are selling and the going rates can be found very easily from a real estate agent, she said. Shehri chairperson Dr Raza Ali Gardezi said that land allotted by the government is also encroached.

Five hundred acres at Hawkes Bay Scheme 42A was allotted to the Karachi Municipal Corporation in 1982 for residential purposes but the Sindh Board of Revenue illegally claimed the land as its own and sold it to government officials at very low prices, said Dr Gardezi. He said that the Karachi Development Authority and the Lyari Development Authority have failed to take this issue to the courts. Individual citizens have been forced to take up responsibility which essentially belongs to government institutions, he said.

The second example he gave was of a 5-acre piece of land in Lines Area that used to be a public park known as Webb Ground. The land was sold by Karachi Cantonment to the Karachi Development Authority in the 70s, however, in the early 90s the Army began to claim it as its own. According to Dr Gardezi, General (retired) Pervez Musharraf authorized the park’s conversion into a commercial property and its sale to the Army Welfare Trust for a mere Rs 6000. The Trust then rented the land to supermarket chain at a cost of Rs 15 million per annum.

Dr Gardezi claimed that land encroachments only take place in lower income neighbourhoods, such as Lines Area, or when poor people are at the losing end of the deal. “If MNAs and MPAs were living in goths then there would be no encroachments happening there,” Dr Gardezi said. “I have never seen anyone encroach on the Chief Minister House or the Governor House in Karachi.”

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