The Supreme Court of Pakistan came down on the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation Tuesday for illegally allotting amenity plots for commercial and residential purposes.
The top court resumed hearing the Gutter Baghicha case at its Karachi Registry Monday.
During the proceeding on December 28, NGO Shehri’s Amber Ali Bhai told the court that over 1,000 acres of the Gutter Baghicha land was encroached upon for housing and industrial plants.
“On the 200-acre land which was meant for parks sits the KMC
Officers Housing Society,” she revealed.
Justice Qazi Amin pointed out that nowhere in the world is the land allocated for parks used for housing societies. “Who allowed the local councils to allot government land? Are they authorised to even do so?” he asked.
How is it possible that an officer sits in his office and gives away everything just like that? If this keeps happening, we will have nothing left for parks, the top judge remarked.
Here, the chairperson of the KMC society said that they will be rendered homeless if the housing is removed. Justice Amin scoffed. “What houses? First, tell us how was a society even built here? Don’t lie or you will be sent to jail.”
The officer pleaded that he be provided time to engage a counsel for the case. Consequently, the court adjourned the hearing till January 11.
At the hearing on Monday, the apex court instructed authorities to immediately restore Gutter Baghicha and remove all encroachments built on it. “For a city with a population of 30 million, there should at least be 300,000 parks,” the chief justice remarked. “What kind of a city doesn’t have parks?”
Justice Gulzar Ahmed was unforgiving of the KMC. He ordered the removal of Murtaza Wahab as the administrator of Karachi after he lost his cool and said that Wahab has failed the people of the city.
After two apologies from the administrator, the court took back its order and instructed Wahab to keep politics separate from his job.
Gutter Baghicha case
The case of Karachi’s most attacked park started in 1993. Shehri, an NGO, says that the KMC Officers Cooperative Housing Society (KMC OCHS) illegally secured 200 acres for itself. Shehri took this to court and filed a human rights case. Its legal case was made by referring to Article 184(3) of the Constitution in the Supreme Court of Pakistan against the conversion of Gutter Baghicha amenity land to industrial, residential, and commercial use.
Shehri feared that turning Gutter Baghicha into plots would destroy the environment. Five other NGOs joined Shehri in the effort to save Gutter Baghicha.
The case in the Supreme Court was disposed of in 2003. The city district government of Karachi (CDGK) promised to reach an understanding with citizens and NGOs. The SC directed the CDGK to report back on how it had followed these orders after three months.
However, more parts of Gutter Baghicha disappeared in the following two years as people surreptitiously took over its green space.
In 2005, Shehri filed a contempt of court case against the CDGK. And then, three years later, again, in 2008, Shehri filed a fresh case against the CDGK, the Karachi Building Control Authority, the Sindh government, and others.
Shehri kept filing contempt petitions over the years but a major development came only in 2018 when the 200 acres illegally given to KMC OCHS were canceled.
In March 2020, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation announced that it had retrieved 362 acres of government land from grabbers. The statement, ironically, claimed that the land belonged to the KMC Officers Society and City Park located near Gutter Bagicha in Old Golimar in District West.