KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Tuesday observed that gangs and land-grabbing mafias operating in the city with the support of government officials in addition to illegal permits from the Sindh Building Control Authority for a number of high-rise buildings would then turn the city into a cemetery.
Hearing the petition against illegal encroachment on public parks and amenity fields in Karachi, three SC council members, led by Supreme Court Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, directed the chief minister of Sindh to hand over steps being taken to improve the situation in Karachi.
At the start of the trial process, the chief judge asked the additional advocate general about compliance with the SC directive given to CM Sindh to improve Karachi’s situation due to the complete collapse of the civilian bodies in Karachi. Additional advocate general, Sindh, said that the secretaries of the relevant departments had submitted their respective reports. At that time, the court took exception to comments not filed by CM and directed the legal officer to ask CM to appear before the court and explain what action had been taken to comply with the court order. The bench observed that CM was specifically instructed to take appropriate action to improve Karachi after observing that no civilian institution appeared to be working or even interested in working. They observed that the additional advocate general was unable to answer court questions about compliance with the 9 May 2019 order.
Following this, Chief Minister Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah appeared in the court’s notice and submitted an apology for not complying with the court’s directive and said a number of measures had been taken to comply. The CM told the court he had a meeting with civilian bodies but was unable to submit the requested report. CM seeks two weeks to submit a compliance report.
However, he disagrees with former Karachi Mayor Waseem Akhtar’s statement that the KMC is not given powers under the Regional Government Law. He said the Sindh government was building University Street, Tariq Street and restoring waterways and sewers in addition to starting the Rs.26 billion Malir Toll Road project to deal with traffic jams. The court asked what steps were taken for the poor because there was no proper infrastructure in the city. The court gave CM Sindh one month to file compliance.
The court also requested statements from Local Government Minister Syed Nasir Hussain Shah regarding the approval of multi-storey buildings in residential areas where only land plus 1 or 2 constructions are allowed. The Minister assures the relevant legal courts and court orders will be obeyed.
The court took seriously the steering wheel and affairs of the Sindh Building Control Authority and observed that an unchecked permit for illegal construction in the city would then turn the city into a cemetery. The court observed that illegitimate multi-storey buildings could be seen all over the city as land grabbers and building mafia operate in the city with impunity with the approval of high-ranking SBCA officials, who have fled the country after making money. The court questioned the SBCA’s ability to eliminate illegal construction and observed that unofficial construction was fully supported by corrupt officials. The court expressed serious concern that millions of citizens could lose their lives due to the poorly planned high-rise construction if a high-magnitude earthquake struck the city.
The DG Sindh Building Control Authority said that they were taking action against illegal high buildings and no building would be allowed to violate statutory regulations. He complained that the SBCA faces a shortage of staff to take action against illegal construction. The court requested information from the SBCA Directorate General whether it had permitted the construction of multi-storey buildings in DHA Phase 9 and Kota Bahria. The court observed that the former SBCA official has now settled overseas after making money from illegal construction supported by land mafia and builders.
The court observed that permits for illegal construction were not possible if a government warrant was made in the city. The court observed that all playgrounds and parks had been encroached on and that no space was left for residents and their rights had been compromised.
Justice Gulzar dubbed the SBCA department an ‘exploiter’ and observed that all of the biggest gangs were operating together to build unofficial buildings in Karachi. The court observed that there were several plaintiffs for a plot of land in Karachi who were given fake papers by the department.
Regarding the operation of the Circular Railways, the court ordered the railway secretary to remove all disturbance from the railway grounds and ensure the KCR is operated according to the railroad schedule. The court also asked why encroachment on the railway land from Keamari and Kalapul was not eliminated and the land was reclaimed. The railway proposed by the secretary could not be implemented due to resistance from the encroachers and asking the police and forest guards for help to clear them. He said the Border Works Organization had been awarded a contract for the subway for the Karachi Circular Railway and the FWO was doing the work. He claims that 75% of the work on the KCR has been completed and part of it is remaining, which was completed in coordination with the Sindh government. The Court observed that the operational schedule for the KCR had not yet been fulfilled and directed the railways and the Sindh government to ensure completion of the KCR was according to the schedule given. The court also warned against action against officials for not complying with court orders. While directing the railway secretary and deputy supervisor to ensure the elimination of encroachment from his land, the SC directed the police and Rangers to provide assistance to the railways.
The court also ordered the Karachi commissioner to take ownership of the Tejori Heights high-rise residential and commercial project, allegedly built on the railroad ground in Gulshan-e-Iqbal, and confiscate all construction on the land. The court was told by the railroad advisor that the land belonged to the railway which was illegally given to private persons and that now a multi-storey building project has been started by a private builder Kamran Tessori.
The advisor to the private builder, Raza Rabbani, strongly opposed the plea and said that the land had nothing to do with railroads and was in fact part of government land with survey number 653. The SC bench observed contradictions and serious flaws in the documents that relating to the location of a particular land. The bench observed that the builder’s advisor had admitted that the builder had no land ownership in Survey 190 and took a stand before the court that they had a power of attorney for the plot of land located in Survey number 653, which is an integral part of Survey 188 of the railway landings . The Court observed that there were claims that improvements had been made to the land records but prima facie no interest rights had been made. The court ordered the Karachi commissioner to confiscate all construction on the subject’s property and ordered that no third party interest be created until further orders.
Taking the Hyatt Regency case, the court directed the railway secretary to submit a report on the restoration of the railroad land that was provided to Hyatt Regency in the 80s within one month. The railway secretary informed the court that Hyatt Regency matters had to be filed before a cabinet meeting to return them to the railroad for their own purposes. The court questioned how trillions of rupees worth of railroads could be given to private parties for just Rs. 46 million.
The court also asked the KMC commissioner for information about the elimination of encroachment from public parks and asked whether the 4,050 square meter land had been taken from builders who violated the boundary for a multi-storey building project. The KMC commissioner proposed that the subject plots be consolidated by the city district council at the time. The court observed that the city government previously sold land to private builders but the land still belonged to KMC and directed the KMC commissioner to take the land and submit a compliance report.
Regarding encroachment at Kidney Hill Park, KMC officials filed before the court that 80,000 tillers were planted there and that more would be planted. He proposed that Kidney Hill Park would open to the public in June 2021.
Regarding the implementation of the Green Line Bus Project by the Karachi Infrastructure Development Company (KIDC), the court directed the company to have the bus project operational by June 2021. The court has been informed by the KIDC COO that the buses are expected to arrive in March and the project will operate in June 2021. He said the project was completed without any foreign bank loans. The court observed that the city’s road infrastructure was destroyed by making a green lane project in the middle of the main road. The court observed that each project was launched with offshore loans including the installation of drains and sewers and indicated that billions of rupees were wasted on the Reverse Osmosis water project in the province. The court observed that the bus project was expected to be operational by June 2021 and made clear that no more time would be given to the company.
The court issued a notice to the Sindh government of an application against the ease of use of land to build a KIDC bus station near Numaish (Old Exhibition) and ordered the advocate general of Sindh to send a reply at the next hearing.
Regarding the non-compliance of various court directives by the Karachi commissioner, the judge warned the Karachi commissioner that he could be sent to prison for disobeying court orders. The court observed that the commissioner’s office had done nothing for the residents and even though two years had passed it had not eliminated encroachment from the city. The court will continue its proceedings on Wednesday (today).