Two years after a landmark judgement of the Supreme Court ordered the Sindh Government to pay compensation to affectees of an anti-encroachment drive, the SC has initiated contempt of court proceedings against the government and former Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah for not reasonably providing the ordered compensation.
The 2021 ruling of the SC had held the government was mandated to provide dignified and honourable rehabilitation and resettlement for the victims of Gujjar Nala, Orangi Nala and Mehmoodabad demolitions. The CM was supposed to deliver monthly progress reports regarding the resettlement and rehabilitation strides for the impacted residents of these demolitions.
The problem of course resides within the concept of anti-encroachment drives that governments and bureaucrats seem to be far too happy to carry out. These drives force residents out on the pretext of red-taping and leave countless people homeless and with their lives in shambles. For years now the Karachi Bachao Tehreeek (KBT) has been fighting against such drives. The organisation has been at the forefront of this fight in the courts and on the streets.
The problem of anti-encroachment drives
Let us go back to the origin of this current case. In February 2020, the government of Sindh initiated a large-scale anti-encroachment operation along the Gujjar and Orangi Nullahs, in accordance with the Supreme Court order of August 2020. This demolition of houses and shops along two of the main storm water drains in Karachi, began as part of the Karachi Transformation Plan – a joint initiative of the federal and provincial governments to improve the city’s infrastructure and prevent urban flooding. The plan involved widening the nullahs by removing the encroachments on both sides, which affected thousands of residents and businesses, many of whom had been living there for decades.
With this objective in mind, the Sindh government engaged engineering students from NED University to undertake a survey utilising satellite imagery, specifically focusing on residences erected along both sides of the twin drains. The NED team performed a Global Navigation Satellite System survey to study the width and depth of the drain and they used drones for an aerial survey to map its route. Astonishingly, they did not physically visit the locations or engage with the residents whose homes were slated for demolition based on the findings of this survey.
It has been alleged that the demolition was carried out without adequate consultation, compensation, or alternative housing for the affected people, violating their right to adequate housing and exposing them to health and security risks, even resulting in deaths. This anti-encroachment drive faced strong and resilient resistance from the residents, who staged protests and filed petitions in the courts to stop the operation.
The Provincial Coordination & the Implementation Committee – PCIC was established by the federal and provincial governments for Karachi’s transformation plan. In the committee’s 5th meeting held in May 2021, it was decided that there has to be a resettlement program for the people who have been affected by the demolitions carried out by the Government of Sindh during their no-stones-left-unturned anti-encroachment drive in and around the Gujjar Nala, Mehmoodabad and Orangi Nala.
In June 2021, the Supreme Court issued an order directing the Sindh government to ensure alternative housing for displaced individuals within three months and to halt all further demolitions until this provision was met. Regrettably, the Sindh government did not adhere to this mandate. Instead, demolition persisted in some areas, and the implementation of the resettlement plan for affected individuals was also significantly delayed.
Scrutinising a government resettlement project which aims to effectively resettle the almost 1 lakh affectees of the Gujjar, Orangi and Mehmoodabad demolitions.Despite being well over halfway through the project’s designated timeline, there exists no tangible evidence to support the notion that the project is proceeding according to its budgetary phases or will achieve its intended completion by the stipulated deadline of June 2024.
An examination of the Government of Sindh’s budget records brings to light the significance of this issue. A sum exceeding Rs9.423 billion has been earmarked for the dedicated Project Implementation Unit (PIU) operating under the Commissioner’s office. This unit bears the responsibility not only for successfully executing the housing scheme within a two-year timeframe but also for efficiently distributing the necessary rent checks to the impacted households. However, following the issuance of the second monthly rent payment, no further disbursements have been made.
What has just happened?
On August 4th, 2023, legal advisors and leaders affiliated with the Karachi Bachao Tehreek (KBT) gathered for a press conference hosted at the Karachi Press Club. During this crucial event, a significant announcement was made: they conveyed their intention to initiate legal proceedings by filing a petition under the Contempt of Court Ordinance 2003 against the Chief Minister of Sindh, Murad Ali Shah.
Essentially, the SC had made an order in 2021 by which the Sindh government was supposed to compensate victims of anti-encroachment drives and the chief minister was supposed to submit regular progress reports to the court. He failed to complete this court mandated task.
The petition underscored the need for the government to address the issue of missing rent cheques of PKR 15,000 intended as monthly payments for the past two years, and to fulfil its obligation of providing suitable housing within the stipulated two-year period subsequent to the court’s verdict.
Nevertheless, despite the passage of two years, a majority of the affected individuals remain devoid of any assistance beyond a solitary rent payment. Adding to this predicament, a mere 8% of the total budget assigned by the Government of Sindh (GoS) for alternative housing has been disbursed, leaving the affected residents without shelter in the face of escalating inflation and the looming climate crisis. Over this biennium, the GoS has taken an active role in spearheading anti-encroachment campaigns, yet its efforts have faltered in delivering proper rehabilitation.
Promises in the air
On June 23, 2021, UN Special Rapporteurs issued a public statement addressing the “Resettlement of Affectees of Gujjar, Mehmoodabad & Orangi Nullahs” initiative, aimed at assisting locally displaced persons (LDPs) or affectees. They noted that these demolitions have been carried out with “little to no notice to the affected residents, with no regard for different degrees of tenure they may hold, and with disparate provisions for redress and compensation.”
As per an internal KBT report, among the houses lacking lease agreements from the KMC and not covered under the Sindh Katchi Abadi Act (SKAA) or KDA, more than 90% still received electricity and gas services, and over 60% were provided with water connections. This government provision of essential utilities serves as further evidence that the authorities had not only actively supplied amenities to households previously deemed “encroachments,” but had also assisted residents in maintaining their livelihoods within the area for decades, only to abruptly decide to displace them.
If these residents were indeed settled unlawfully, the fact that they were granted access to electricity, water, and gas services introduces ambiguity regarding their classification as encroachments. Remarkably, even a family residing in Wahid Colony since 1925 – spanning generations that navigated through the almost a century.
These rehabilitative measures were not decided by this committee on its own volition, or ordained by the Sindh government out of the kindness of their hearts. These steps were taken in compliance with the court order which also admonished these residents of these nullahs in the first place. The endorsement of the resettlement scheme took place in December 2021, with its inclusion in the Annual Development Plan (ADP) of the Sindh Budget. This developmental endeavour is valued at PKR 9.423 billion. The slated date for its culmination is June 30, 2024, as detailed in the Government of Sindh’s budget documentation.
The resettlement is intended to encompass a total land area of 258.23 acres, accommodating 6,500 housing units. Each unit will span 80 square yards. The official allocation breakdown can be found below:
|Construction of housing units||Rs 5,939.021 million|
|Infrastructure development||Rs 870.397 million|
|External Development||Rs 1,000 million|
|Social Sector development||Rs 385.520 million|
|Miscellaneous provision||Rs 1,229.852 million|
|Total||Rs 9,423.789 million|
The ADP Budget Book for 2023-24 and the GoS Finance Dashboard highlight a significant gap between the estimated cost of PKR 9.423 billion for the scheme and the actual expenditure, which stood at only PKR 42 million as of June 30th, 2023. Furthermore, according to the Budget Book, the Government of Sindh (GoS) intends to allocate merely 8% of the total cost, signifying that only an 8% financial progress will be achieved by the designated deadline of June 30, 2024.
Internal reports from the KBT survey reveal that only 35% of the affected individuals have received the first rent check out of the 24 payments promised to them in anticipation of the construction of alternative housing. However, a staggering 72% of those who did receive the checks were unable to convert them into cash, undermining the very purpose of such compensation.
So what did the government do with the money?
We spoke to independent researcher Sadya Siddiqui, who works closely with the legal team of KBT. She told us, that from the Sindh Finance Department’s dashboard it is apparent that in March 2023, an amount of PKR 200 million was reallocated from the Resettlement scheme to facilitate the completion of a road project in Sukkur District, referred to as the “Construction/Rehabilitation of the Primary Secondary Roads in Sukkur District.”
While the reallocation of funds from one scheme to another is a common practice, this instance raises concerns. The resettlement scheme is directly linked to the critical provision of shelter, in accordance with the Supreme Court’s directive in its June 2021 order. This reallocation starkly underscores the apparent indifference of the Provincial Government toward the demolitions’ affected individuals, whom the Government itself recognizes as displaced persons.
With a re-appropriation of Rs 20 crores and a mere Rs 4.2 crores expended on the project itself, significant doubt and disbelief are cast over Murad Ali Shah’s statement made on August 17, 2023. This declaration was given to the media just outside the Supreme Court Registry in Karachi, where he asserted that exhaustive efforts were being exerted to aid the affectees since the June 2021 verdict was delivered.
Furthermore, the PIU has engaged a consultant who is concurrently offering comparable services to the Malir Development Authority (MDA). Notably, in 2021, the unit established an internal timeline of 18 months for the completion of the physical construction process. Alongside this, the unit formulated a budget-allocation breakdown for its own operations:
|Year 1 (2022)||Year 2 (2023)||Total|
|3,769.515 million||5,654.274 million||9,423.789 million|
However, contrary to the promises made, only 8% of the budget has been allocated so far and we are almost halfway into Year 2. We also found that on 1 July 2021, the Secretary MDA wrote a letter to the Secretary of Local Government that an area of 250 acres of land was made available for the resettlement of the affectees of “natural nallas/storm drains of metropolis”. However, it is clear that no progress was made by the local government in response to the same.
Human Cost of the Criminal Negligence of the GoS
On Tuesday, January 25, 2022, a tragic incident occurred in Gujjar Nala resulting in the loss of a 45-year-old life due to the collateral effects of demolition work. Strikingly, there were no emergency services available on-site, despite the Government of Sindh’s (GoS) active involvement in the area and its awareness of the risks and hazards. The deceased, a father of seven children, was the sole breadwinner of his household.
This is not the only such case. Over the years following the demolitions and the subsequent resident-led protests, a number of instances of police brutality have been documented. An internal KBT report mentions that as many as 21,000 children would be put out of school and under the open sky as a result of this anti-encroachment drive, which was undertaken by the GoS in 2021.
On 17th August 2023 Murad Ali Shah and Murtaza Wahab came to the court and presented their explanations in front of the bench. The court order explains that the Chief Minister expressed regret for not filing the monthly progress reports and explained why the project timeline was not followed. The court also further ensured through verbal agreement with Murad Ali Shah, Murtaza Wahab and other officials of the GoS present in court that they will commit to the complete disbursement of rent checks within the next 30 days.
In addition, Murad Ali Shah, Murtaza Wahab, and the Chief Secretary of Sindh Govt proposed two distinct alternatives for the resettlement and rehabilitation of the affected individuals. Firstly, the Government of Sindh (GoS) could allocate funds for the purchase of land and construction for the affected individuals. Alternatively, the GoS could assign 80 sq. yard plots to the affected individuals in the Malir Development Authority, with the construction costs being covered separately.