Each morning at 7:30, when Sahira Bano, 35, leaves the congested house that her father built decades ago, she worries that the railway tracks connecting the strip of encroached land belonging to the Pakistan Railways will be taken back and she will not have a house to return to.
Bano, who offers her services at a house in Defence – an affluent neighborhood located on the other side of the bridge having large houses, perfect landscaping and wide, unsullied roads – lives with five other people in a 30 by 20 quarter. Narrating her story, she recalls that her family has lived in Gharibabad for generations. Now, her home is in peril, wrapped with fancy terms like ‘revival’ and ‘development’.
With the “revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project” in full swing, the government fails to provide an alternative to the people residing on the land affected by the project, one of which is unfortunately, the Gharibabad colony located under the Pakistan Industrial Corporation Development (PIDC) bridge.
Gharibabad is a neighborhood littered with garbage, dotted with rubble of demolished houses and a nullah that is flowing from the periphery of the Supreme Court of Pakistan into the same strip of dirt where the KCR, one of Karachi’s most ambitious and divisive infrastructure projects has been shaping up.
“Yes, this land belongs to our ancestors,” Bano said with hope that she is losing with every passing day. “But, they are going to take it away one way or the other,” she further exclaimed.
With the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) project in full swing, the government fails to provide an alternative to the people residing on the land affected by the project
In November 2018, immediate steps to revive the KCR project and clear all encroachments on the Pakistan Railways’ land in the metropolis were given by Justice Gulzar Ahmed in a meeting he held at the apex court’s Karachi registry. Soon, work to clear the KCR route and the metropolis started with the help of local bodies. Soon it was found that parts of the encroached land were owned by the Pakistan Railways, which was now needed back to revive the KCR project. The court strictly directed authorities to speed up the process, taking on-board the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and other cantonment boards to clear the encroachments. Along with houses, any shops or stalls that were built on that land were ordered to be removed. Hawkers and extensions of commercial businesses along the roads and footpaths were removed as part of the anti-encroachment drive during the same time in the Saddar area in Karachi.
Being displaced due to development projects is not something new to the katchi abadis in Karachi. What is new is the absence of an alternative action plan to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of such developments taking place in the city.
“We are going to lose our entire heritage, all our culture,” lamented Bano, pointing out to a young man standing nearby. “He was born in front of me. I have seen him crawl, go to school and now take up the responsibilities of his household,” she said. Displacements due to development projects in the city have been traumatic and dehumanizing. The displaced people’s livelihood, their family, kinship systems, cultural identity and informal social networks are adversely affected and disrupted.
Being displaced due to development projects is not something new to the katchi abadis in Karachi.
Lack of policy framework and social securities has made them insecure and psychologically weak. Financial compensation is never enough to sustain their livelihoods. The assurances by the government almost always differ from reality which then leads to tragic consequences.
The name of the colony ‘Gharibabad’ is derived from two words ‘garib’ meaning poor and ‘abad’ which stems from the word ‘abadi’ meaning colony. The word translates into the ‘colony of the poor’. The meaning is evident not only by the class that calls it home but also through their living conditions.
Bano and other residents of the Gharibabad Colony do not mind development in their area. “The government needs to arrange an alternative for us,” she said. They have no choice but to clean up the broken concrete and twisted metal themselves that has been lying there for months.
According to Zahid Farooq, who works at the Urban Resource Centre (URC) in Karachi, it is the responsibility of the State to provide shelter, food and other necessities of life to every person. “You cannot just displace them without providing an alternative,” he added.
According to a survey conducted by the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 2013, around 4,653 illegal constructions will be demolished as part of the anti-encroachment drive to clear the land for the KCR project. However, the figure is likely to be much higher now since it has been seven years to the survey and the population has also increased in the city, according to the Pakistan Bureau of Statistics (PBS) population survey, 2017.
The metropolis bares the weight of a huge population dependent on dwindling resources and a crumbling infrastructure.
A resettlement plan for the KCR affected people was developed in 2011 by the Karachi Urban Transport Corporation (KUTC) in accordance with the JICA environmental guidelines that acknowledged the residents as affected persons. The resettlement plan was one of its kind as it was proposed as a test on how to respond to demolitions caused by such projects in the most dramatic circumstances without tearing communities apart.
“We never saw the resettlement plan coming to life as setting a precedent for the rest of the country,” said Farooq, who monitors the KCR project closely at the URC.
The metropolis bares the weight of a huge population dependent on dwindling resources and a crumbling infrastructure. If the law had been assiduously applied from the beginning, such an extreme way of getting rid of these encroachments would not have been necessary. The question still remains: how does one justify a population of 15 million people, finding a space to call it home?
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