Courts and Karachi.

Byline: Dr Noman Ahmed

OVER the past few weeks, the Supreme Court has issued directives for fixing land utilisation and building construction practices in Karachi. The court has ordered the demolition of illegally constructed buildings and the removal of encroachments from public lands. Previously, it had also advised the revitalisation of the Karachi Circular Railways, while only recently, the Sindh High Court directed the setting up of a medical and dental college on the premises of Mohatta Palace, a heritage complex.

There has been a mixed response to this trend of judicial intervention for reforming the natural and built environment. Some stakeholders believe that the courts have become saviours of the public interest. Others say that most such actions reflect a selective justice as countless similar violations are found elsewhere in the city without corresponding action being ordered. Common to both arguments is the awareness that the executive has failed to protect the natural and built environment, and ecological assets, and has not been able to complete approved projects in a timely manner. The question is, can such complex matters be fixed judicially?

People are punished for constructing homes illegally. But no official is questioned for not developing options for land supply for housing low-income groups. No legal and institutional option is available for the urban poor in Karachi or elsewhere to access housing. When the poor develop makeshift shelters and homes at relatively invisible locations, they experience evictions, although powerful investors and institutions succeed in acquiring land for the same purpose. The Sindh cabinet recently approved the allotment of 200 acres of land to an agency in Keamari district. But the urban poor do not have a housing scheme they can apply to. Will corrective judicial action be taken to remedy this?

Much of the rot in regulating the built environment is by design, with the government's collusion. The Supreme Court recently ordered the demolition of many buildings whose construction violated building by-laws and ownership and zoning statutes. But there is little effort to reform the provincial building control authority. Regulation, monitoring and control of construction practices are important. The existence of legally valid and technically appropriate building solutions for various facilities is a prerequisite for healthy lifestyles. Social justice and protection of rights can be...

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