KARACHI: Illegal excavation of sand and gravel around the pillars of the Malir flyover is worrying city government officials ahead of the monsoon.
Pakistan’s longest bridge was inaugurated in 2009 and is built over the Malir river. It connects the Korangi area to Shah Faisal Colony and the Quaid-i-Azam International Airport. Sand and gravel, supporting the foundation pillars of the 1.5-kilometre Malir flyover, are being dug out illegally, thereby weakening the pillars and posing a threat to the bridge. A certain ‘mafia’, allegedly protected by the police, is responsible for the rampant excavation of gravel and sand from the foundation pillars and the Malir river’s embankments, say city government officials. Foundation pillars are sunk into the earth and if people start digging out the earth from around a pillar, it will end up loosening its base.
On top of that, if that dug-up area is exposed to water, which washes away the remaining earth. This further weakens the foundation. Exposing the foundation could weaken the earth’s hold on the pillars that would lead to their collapse. There is another aspect of this looming danger. Along with the bridge, the Malir river embankments are also posing a threat to the city. They were designed by WAPDA a year after the 1977 flood in Karachi that inundated areas of Korangi, Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and Mehmoodabad.
The embankments or waterbreaking barriers were built to stop floodwater or high-pressure water, especially after heavy rainfall, from entering the main areas of Korangi, DHA and Mehmoodabad. The structure of these barriers, mostly heaps of sand, gravel and stone, is now in jeopardy as there are visible chunks of sand missing. “It is prohibited to excavate gravel from the Malir embankments because the stonewalls and toe walls [a low wall at the bottom of an embankment to prevent soil from spreading] we’ve built, will be destroyed by water erosion,” explained the City District Government Karachi’s (CDGK) anti-encroachment department’s additional District Officer Jameel Ahmad Baloch.
If the soil supporting the embankment and toe wall is washed away, both structures are exposed to water erosion. “This will lead the water and floodwater to cut through and erode the structure, destroying the whole design and flooding areas of Karachi,” said Baloch. According to officials, the excavation is taking place unabated, throughout the night and day for the last eight to 10 days. Meanwhile, police officials told Express News that vans from the Sharafi Goth Police Station, Landhi, escort and protect this ‘mafia’ from digging out the gravel.
Jameel Yousuf Baloch told Express News that he had gone to the excavation site and when he stopped the group, they said they had approval from the Sindh government’s mineral department to dig the sand. However, this site and project comes under the CDGK’s jurisdiction and the only way a group can get excavation approvals is if the revenue department issues a No-objection certificate (NoC). Department officials told Express News that they have not issued any approval. According to Baloch, the authorities are not paying attention to this matter.
“I spoke to the CDGK’s revenue department who said that they wrote a letter to CCPO Karachi Waseem Ahmad on April 22 about the illegal excavation. Earlier, I had phoned him myself telling him that I have been to the site and all of this was happening in front of my eyes,” he said, adding that the CCPO had assured him that the digging will be stopped. “The revenue department had also asked DIG (East) to take over and solve the case, but nothing has happened so far,” he said.
These gravel-filled trucks are taken about two kilometres away and one truck of this expensive gravel and sand is being sold openly for Rs10,000. More than 500 heavy trucks of sand and gravel have been excavated and sold.