Understanding encroachment and why its end will be a breath of fresh air for Karachi

Published: November 21, 2018
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They went for Empress Market first in order to send a message that no one will be spared. PHOTO: TWITTER/ BOZICH MOXNESS

The city of Karachi is left with a handful of neighbourhoods where encroachment is not an issue yet, namely the Defence Housing Authority, Malir Cantt and few other housing societies. Rest of the city is plagued with encroachments involving roadside restaurants, car showrooms, push cart vendors, illegal settlements and so on.

Sometimes hard decisions need to be taken in order to address an issue that was hard to approach earlier. People will be displaced, businesses will be shutdown and many will go jobless but in the longer run, malpractices and violations will come down significantly. Rule of law can only be implemented with an iron fist. This city has suffered just because the law enforcing authorities were lenient and had an extremely ‘accommodating’ attitude, therefore a plethora of civic problems engulfed the city since the last few decades. So to better understand why encroachment was allowed in the first place, here are four causes of encroachment:

Real estate prices

Karachi is home to immigrants from almost every nook and corner of the country. They head towards Karachi in search of jobs, business opportunities and a relatively better lifestyle than the one offered in their hometowns or villages. In a highly saturated and urbanised Karachi, where real estate prices and rents are sky rocketing, most of them prefer to settle down in katchi abadis (illegal settlements) in order to save some money to cover the rest of their expenditures.

Those who opt for trading or business, the cheapest option available for them is to set up their carts or cabins on encroached land since the prices of shops in commercial areas are way out of their reach. When established businesses are trying to expand and reach out to other areas of the city, the only factor that keeps them from doing so are the real estate prices. This forces them to violate the building by-laws and they create more spaces by encroaching upon government land in order to facilitate their clients or customers.

Dearth of commercial areas

In order to make more money out of residential plots, the development authorities in Karachi left very few options for commercial activities. In such a highly saturated scenario, a businessman would either encroach upon government land or start his venture on a residential plot by paying heavy bribes to the officers concerned. This results in an urban landscape imbalance and the sporadic commercial activity on encroached land destroys the aesthetics of the city leaving very few open spaces for the general public to enjoy.

Political motives

Almost every political party has contributed towards the systematic destruction of this once beautiful city. In order to increase and strengthen their respective vote banks, political parties with mostly rural fan following brought in people from the villages of rural Sindh and got them illegally settled in katchi abadis and encroached land that was otherwise meant for public welfare. As a consequence to this, the political parties enjoying an exclusive urban electoral mandate started settling down their voters in a similar fashion: in illegally constructed housing societies or apartments.

The issue of Gujjar naala was lingering on for the sole reason that one political party had its voters settled illegally along the banks of the naala resulting in frequent overwhelming of the narrowed down drain during monsoon season. Similarly, areas like Empress Market, Katti Pahaari and so on were heavily encroached by voters of a political party that used to enjoy a sizable mandate in Karachi during the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) government tenure.

Lack of civic sense

This comes down to the void left by our educational system that has failed to instil civic sense and awareness regarding the responsibilities of a citizen among the people of our city. When people are not even aware of the very basics of cleanliness, discipline and the concept of open spaces in an urban landscape, they will blatantly encroach upon government land without any regard for the law just because they are fully aware of the loopholes in our system. Anyone can get away by merely bribing the concerned officers of the development and municipal authorities of the city.

The ongoing anti-encroachment drive is like a breath of fresh air for the city of Karachi. At a time when citizens had lost all hope, the court orders gave Mayor Wasim Akhtar a chance to make his presence felt and help the people of Karachi. They went for Empress Market first in order to send a message that no one will be spared. If this drive is successful and the move is a permanent one, Karachi will have its beauty restored, history shall be preserved and the general public will get to enjoy more open spaces and sidewalks.

The mayor of Karachi and the government of Sindh must, however, make alternate arrangements for all those who have been affected by this drive and provide them space where they could resume their business activities. This would also keep them from entering the world of crime which they eventually will turn towards if they are not rehabilitated properly. As a resident of Karachi, I would be the ultimate beneficiary of this entire drive. If this goes through and turns into a sustainable model, we will have cleaner and wider roads, walkways and more public spaces will eventually beautify our city and provide much needed international exposure to Karachi. The city will have some order and after a long time, Karachiites will enjoy exploring areas that were earlier choked with encroachments.

Arsalan Faruqi

Arsalan Faruqi

An entrepreneur with a degree in computer engineering and an MBA from IBA Karachi. He tweets as @arsalanfaruqi (twitter.com/arsalanfaruqi)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Parvez

    What I think you are saying is ” …..a ‘wrong ‘was allowed but now it is being corrected, so that’s a good thing for all “. My view is that this ‘ wrong ‘ is being corrected by the very people ( used in a general sense ) who were complicit in aiding this ‘ wrong ‘ over a period of time. So unless something effective is done to stop this from happening again it will be a wasteful exercise ….. and the ‘ wrong ‘ will come back with a vengeance.Recommend

  • Taimur khan

    I agree with encroachment policy but the government first make alternate for the effected people. Action of encroachment policy without alternate for the effected people will increase disparity and leading crime in the beautiful city. The effected one facing the problem of food, shelter, water, and employment which is rationally more important then beautification.Recommend

  • Anonymous

    To be honest here, people who have moved to Karachi from remote areas who are now seeing their businesses and homes being torn down due to the encroachment issues, they should leave Karachi. Re-settle at where they originated. They should take their Karachi experience and make their own community better. Karachi is also way over its population quota and this will finally help smaller cities of Pakistan grow if these people are willing enough to solve their problems instead of running to places like Karachi to get away from them.Recommend

  • Yousuf_UK

    Whilst encroachment is a serious hazard for drivers in particular but with the recent removal of illegal construction and carts at Empress Market leaving a clear view of a beautiful structure behind, more such heritage sites should be recovered from the mafiose. The Editorial perhaps mistakenly believe that no such encroachment is in Defence, but it may not be entirely true. I happened to pass through Khayaban e Shujaat around on the perimeter of the beautiful Zamzama Park, a caravan of fruiterers occupy it with infrequent interruption when Defence Authorities remove them but within minutes it is reoccupied causing discomfort to residents nearby in Zamzama. In addition, the shop owners in Shujaat too occupy the forecourt making it difficult for pedestrians to negotiate. The 26 Street is in shambles and very difficult to negotiate traffic at any time of day. Perhaps the article should be corrected to incorporate such abuse of Government land.Recommend

  • Yousuf_UK

    No amount of money would have sufficed to move them in an orderly fashion, but since they have been evacuated, a once only payment to compensate the discomfort of moving if paid may be in order. During my visits to Karachi p, a city I grew up, the encroachment is wide spread, with Defence Authorities moving hawkers away only to return within minutes of officers leaving. The perimeter of Zamzama Park where I frequent whenever visiting, the Shujaat side is shockingly occupied by hawkers. The shops who occupy shops legally have encroached the space by extending the shop space to occupy the pavement and part of the road causing congestion. The 26 Street is another example of hawkers at any time of day or night where access is difficult. The alleged harsh measures adopted perhaps reflect a society who have lived protected lives by successive governments and the move is hurting.Recommend

  • A.F

    Dear Arslan just to correct your facts, most of the people illegally living in katchi-abadis of karachi did not come from rural sindh but from delhi, u.p, bihar, lucknow and some other areas of India. You might need to travel better through karachi and visit areas like korangi, orangi, landhi, lalookhait, surjani, baldia.Recommend

  • Sane

    What would be punishment for those who encouraged encroachments. Let’s see how long these areas are not encroached again. After all this is multi billion business by supporting encroachments. Another example of Parking Mafia and Water Tanker Mafia. Who will harness them?!!Recommend

  • Andrew Davis

    So far the only thing that I have seen in the anti-encroachment drive is that the poor or less well-to-do are faring worse than most others. Instead of just targeting the encroached land (so-called government land, given to the encroachers by the various political parties) the anti-encroachment drive should also target those who are responsible. Both actions should be (or rather should have been) carried out together, so that some sort of parity or justice could be visible. If the government, in its anti-encroachment drive, plans on targeting those who allowed the encroachers to encroach on goverment land in the first place, then there will be some sort of justice served. Otherwise, it will be just the same as always been the practice in this country. The richer get richer (meaning that they have ways and means to escape the law) while the poor get poorer.

    So many areas mentioned in this article have without a doubt been settled so that people to increase the vote bank. It is my personal opinion, that PPP alone cannot be held responsible for this problem, though they have undoubtedly done a great deal towards settling the encroachers in order to increase their vote bank. MQM, ANP, in fact almost all the political parties who at one time or the other have participated in the elections are also to be held responsible for this.

    If i recall correctly, during the MQM government in Karachi, people were sold makeshift steel and corrugated cabins in order to set up their businesses and these were sold and resold many times, with owners changing hands quite frequently. Again, if I recall correctly, these cabins were sold initially at 100K per cabin and these with the rise in prices and expenses, were resold again. There are many such cabins, etc. in the metropolis of Karachi. What fault is it of the present owner who has paid a good sum of money for this cabin, instituted and sold by previous governments that they have to pack up their businesses and move. Some are doing quite well, whereas others not so well in these cabins.

    The problem of encroachment has been for quite some time in this city. The way that I see things is that no one has ever taken responsibility or ownership whatsoever, towards this city while at the same time making tall claims about what they were or would do for the city.

    In order for some sort of justice to be served, it would be a good idea if the government, settled these encroached businesses elsewhere, giving the new areas (places of business) to the displaced people on installments or some sort of relief should be provided instead of just demolishing the encroached areas. At the same time, those who allowed or were lenient on the matter should also be targetted and penalized, though I think that if that should happen most of the assemblies, both Federal and Provincial would be empty as I am sure that quite a few of those who allowed such things to happen to this once beautiful city are now in high places of power.Recommend