The residents of Mehmoodabad staged Thursday morning a protest against the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s drive to clear land on both sides of one of Karachi’s main storm water drains, the Mehmoodabad Nullah. The drive has been postponed indefinitely.
It was decided late Wednesday night that the drive would begin in Kashmir Colony instead of Manzoor Colony. The teams hoped to start with illegally constructed businesses before moving on to demolishing homes.
But they were met by hundreds of protesters. Men, women, and children held banners and chanted slogans against the KMC. The demolition work was stalled for more than five hours because of the protest. The protesters only agreed to talk to officials when the machinery had been removed, so the machines were shifted to the Manzoor Colony Fire Station.
By 2pm, however, after a delay and talks, the teams pushed ahead from the Manzoor Colony Fire Station area.
The police and KMC tried to enter a second location to try to widen Mehmoodabad nullah–but people started pelting them with stones. Two members of the anti-encroachment team were injured and are currently at the hospital.
The teams and police took cover in the fire station and were held hostage there as the protesters broke the fire station gate and walls.
Jamshed Division SP Farooq Bijarani then arrived and negotiated with the protesters. He assured them that the operation would not continue if they ended their protest peacefully.
They were also told to remove their road blocks on the Korangi Expressway, Korangi Causeway, Shaheed-e-Millat and adjacent service roads. These main roads were blocked for between one and a half and two hours.
Bashir Siddiqui, the KMC senior director of anti-encroachment, said there is some misconception about the drive among the residents. They think that KMC was going to demolition their houses but we have no such plans, he said. “We are going to raze commercial units, such as warehouses, first.”
KMC Operations Director Minhaj-ul-Haq said they will survey the area again. One of the protesters’ issues was that they believed the original survey was not done correctly.
This time, representatives from the Board of Revenue, Sindh government katchi abadies department and KMC will conduct the survey and then discuss the operation.
The KMC had initially requested police and Rangers presence during the drive, however, the Rangers were not deployed.
The teams had water cannons and tear gas but did not use either on the protesters.
There is no precedent of using tear gas and water cannons on protesters in Karachi other than outside the Karachi Press Club or in the Red Zone (where CM House and Governor House are).
Mehmoodabad Nullah operation
The work to clear the nullah has been undertaken by the National Disaster Management Authority, the East district administration and Karachi Metropolitan Corporation from Manzoor Colony Fire Brigade Station to Korangi Road. It was planned at the start of last week but put off till the Pakistan Super League.
KMC Metropolitan Commissioner Afzal Zaidi was initially supervising the work (he was transferred out on Wednesday night). The houses run on a 3.5km strip on both sides of the nullah. KMC did give leases for land but at a distance of 100, 150 and 200 feet from the nullah’s edges. Those houses are part of a notified KMC katchi abadi that was formed up until 1987. The problem is with houses that have been built right at the edge of the nullah.
“They are un-leased housing construction and people are living without any documented proof,” he said.
KMC plans to bring the nullah back to the shape as specified in the 1987 Master Plan. Usually when land is left over or vacant around a nullah, a “revised” or “part” plan can be made so people can build on it. But Zaidi clarified that this was not the case.
The encroachment removal will be done according to a 1987 KMC Katchi Abadis notification in which the actual status of the nullah has to be restored according to a Supreme Court order. The width of the Mehmoodabad drain varies by 100, 150 and 200 feet from Manzoor Colony Fire Brigade Station to Korangi Road. Its original width from Manzoor Colony Fire Brigade Station to Bismillah Bridge is 100 feet but this has shrunk to 10 to 12 feet right now.