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Editorial

December 4, 2017

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Public land

A Supreme Court order that more than 35,000 illegal encroachments in Karachi be removed in the next two months shows just how badly the provincial and city governments have failed in their various anti-encroachment drives. That it now takes the apex court to tell the government to carry out its basic duties is an indictment of the state of governance in Karachi today. And there is every possibility that the order will not be carried out fully. If past experience is anything to go by, the Karachi Development Authority and Karachi Metropolitan Authority will remove a few encroachments – most likely makeshift shops set up by working class people on footpaths – with much fanfare without taking notice of the organised land encroachment by wealthy business interests. In fact, both the city and provincial governments are complicit in the latter type of encroachment. They willingly allow public land to essentially be seized. In the Supreme Court case, the orders apply to encroachments on amenity plots. For years, such plots have been sold off for commercial and residential purposes in direct violation of the law. With the government in bed with the building and construction businesses, amenity plots are approved for conversion for such uses, depriving the public of the hospitals, parks and school that should have been constructed in their place. In some cases, land that was allocated for public hospitals has been given at low rates for the construction of private hospitals. Then, after a few years, the hospital is shuttered and the land sold off at a massive profit to commercial interests like shopping malls.
Illegal encroachments have had a direct impact on the provision of public services in the city. One of the reasons the much-needed Karachi Circular Railway has not been built yet is because of the hundreds of encroachments along its proposed route. Karachi keeps flooding after even a bare minimum amount of rainfall because so many of the city’s storm-water

drains have been encroached upon. Reclaiming amenity plots, as important as it is, should only be the start of a campaign to take back the city from the corrupt nexus of developers, builders and government officials. For too long, government service has been seen as a way of making a quick buck rather than serving the public. Changing that culture will take more than orders from the Supreme Court.

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