ISLAMABAD: Two islands located in the Arabian Sea off the Karachi coast, covered by the recently signed Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance, are currently in the eye of a political storm.
Apart from the Sindh government, civil society and Sindhi nationalist parties — who have voiced strong reservations– the PIDA ordinance has also caused deep concern to the thousands of members of the fishing community. The fishermen see the development of the islands as an end to their centuries-old lifestyle and livelihood.
The ordinance has also become a source of a controversy leading to a war of words between the federal government and Sindh administration. Thus far, efforts to find a middle way over the issue have not borne fruit. Civil society groups, environmentalists and lawyers have now decided to challenge in court the federal government’s attempt to take over and develop the islands.
The Bundal and Buddo islands, along with reclaimed land, are spread over some 12,000 acres or 49 square kilometers. Bundal, pronounced Bhandar by local fishermen, is a small island and a twin island of Buddo, also known as Dingi. The well-known and scenic Churna islands are also located near Bundal. On Bundal Island stands the tomb of Sufi saint Yusuf Shah. His annual Urs attracts thousands of coastal people to the island that takes on the look of a city during this commemoration
The attempt to develop the islands is not a new one. In March, 2013, a prominent developer had signed a joint venture with the companies of American investor Thomas Kramer to develop an Island City on Bundal and Buddo Islands with a cost of $20 billion. It was then envisaged that the project will be developed in a span of five to ten years but the residential area would start being handed over to people in 2016.
The claims made at the time were extravagant. It was claimed that the project would comprise global attractions such as the world’s tallest building and largest shopping mall, a sports city, educational and medical city, an international city and a media city – all with the most modern facilities and amenities and the most advanced infrastructure. It was said that the project would provide employment to an estimated 2.5 million people and housing to millions.
At the time, however, many local NGOs, political parties and even the Sindh government had raised concerns over the environment damage and the adverse impact on the economy the development could have. There was also unease at a foreign company being ‘sold’ the island.
The planned Island City, it was said, would be connected to DHA Karachi via a six-lane modern bridge. The entire new city would be a ‘high security zone’, with its own drinking water produced from seawater via a desalination plant and a power generation plant to enable it to be self-sufficient for power. Moreover, the project would have cinemas, spas, golf clubs, schools, hospitals and other amenities to provide a modern global lifestyle to residents.
At the signing ceremony, Thomas Kramer, known as TK, had said with more than a touch of hyperbole: “I have full confidence in the people and economy of Pakistan. In 1970, when I started my project in Germany, it was the worst era of (the country’s) history.
Likewise, when the Miami Beach project was started, the area was in full control of Cuban criminals, different mafias and gangsters. Dead bodies used to be scattered along the beaches. I completed my projects successfully. Today they are the world’s most secure and advanced regions. The current situation in Pakistan is much better than those areas. Further I am confident that this project along with boosting the economy will also eradicate terrorism from Pakistan. This is a once in a lifetime chance to bring Pakistan back on the map as one of the leading nations in the world.”
TK claimed that he had apparently surveyed an island hideout of Cuban pirates in 1991-92 and boasted that he had later “developed it into the present day Miami Beach.” His backers sold him as someone who was well known for building skyscrapers in coastal areas.
High-sounding statements aside, no progress was made on the agreement and the islands were left in relative peace for some years. But recently, the PIDA ordinance was promulgated by the federal government to develop the Bundal and Buddo islands with similar extravagant claims. Today, it is being projected that the project will surpass Dubai after the islands are developed and are likely to attract an investment of around $50 billion (Rs8,190 billion).
According to a government report, the PIDA will “initiate and maintain a continuous process of reclamation and urban planning and identify immovable properties and projects suitable for the development of schemes within internal waters and territorial waters (Bundal and Buddo islands) of Pakistan.”
It adds that it will It “initiate and maintain a continuous process of reclamation, master planning, urban planning, spatial planning for the specified areas; identify immovable properties and projects suitable for the development of schemes within them; recommend to the federal or relevant provincial government policies laws and actions to be applied to the specified areas to enhance the international competitiveness of industry, tourism and commerce in specified areas; and propose to the government incentives in relation to taxes, customs and excise duties and other fiscal incentives applicable to investors in the specified areas.”
After initially claiming that the islands were part of the Port Qasim area and therefore federal territory, there has been a softening of position by some in the federal government. This is clearly prompted by the strong reaction to the move in Sindh and after the intervention from the top at the federal level. Sindh Governor Imran Ismail has recently stated that Bundal Island is a part of Sindh and the federal government is not going to take over or occupy it. For now, the provincial government has taken a hard line against the project and has withdrawn a letter that it had previously written to the federal authorities before the issuance of the presidential ordinance.