Residents rendered homeless by fire, suffer huge financial losses


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Merchant Centre, Clifton

Residents rendered homeless by fire, suffer huge financial losses
Residents on the first and second floor apartments in Merchant Centre at Schon Circle were among the worst sufferers when the building came under attack following Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson, Benazir Bhutto’s assassination on December 27. An anonymous group of five people escaped after throwing three bombshells at the building – one was targeted at a bank on the mezzanine of the building, while the other two were thrown at shops on the ground floor.

While residents in the building were not actually targeted, they did however, become the actual victims of the attack when none out of 12 apartments on the first and the second floor of the building burned down completely. Apart from being rendered homeless for an indefinite period, residents of this gutted property have also been forced to come to terms with huge financial losses all of a sudden.

The building has collectively suffered a monetary setback of at least four million rupees, the apartments’ general-secretary, Quaid Johar, told The News. “The repair of electrical wiring alone would take around Rs 600,000 to Rs 700,000,” he said.

In addition to the financial loss, residents also claim to have been traumatized by the incident. “I was sleeping when I heard a bang outside. Before I actually realize what was going on, two more bangs followed,” said Seema Rahim, a resident of the second floor of the building. She has been staying with relatives ever since, and came to see her house on Monday after a lapse of four days. “After the three blasts, the guard came running upstairs and told us that fire had engulfed the building and that we should evacuate the premises immediately,” Rahim said.

Her apartment has suffered less damage compared to the others around hers. The only visible problems are cracks that have appeared on the outer wall. She said however, that she would still prefer staying with relatives until things calmed down. The apartment next door to Rahim’s has been damaged badly, while those on the first floor have been completely gutted. “I stepped out of my apartment as soon as the guard told everyone to evacuate, but it was all dark outside and heavy smoke in the stairways made movement very difficult,” Rahim said. She was carrying her cat throughout the ordeal. Amidst the chaos, Rahim slipped and fell down the staircase and bruised her knees and elbows. “Everyone was downstairs within a few minutes, however, just to watch their house on fire,” she said.

The residents first called the City District Government Karachi’s (CDGK) fire service at 16, but they were told that their area (Clifton Block 9) fell under the jurisdiction of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA). The latter was then contacted, and two fire tenders reached the spot within 40 to 45 minutes. The fire tenders, however, were not very large, and succeeded only in denting the spirit of the fire without putting it out.

As water in the fire tenders started running out, two more fire tenders were called in. By the time they reached the spot, the fire was up and roaring again. “We kept calling the CDGK and asked them to help us because the DHA does not have snorkels and their fire tenders are too small. Our requests fell on deaf ears, however,” Johar said.

Finally at around 08:00 a.m. in the morning a DHA official reached the site, with eight fire tenders in tow. These kept refilling the two already at work, and the fire was controlled by afternoon. The clothes and accessories lying on the road in large amount indicate that the residents tried to save their belongings by throwing them out of the balconies.

Shops and the bank that had been targeted were all badly damaged. The branch manager said that everything had completely burnt down, and worried customers have been visiting them constantly. An account holder, Dr Shaheena, heaved a sigh of relief when she was told that the fire had not affected her account in any way and that she could easily conduct transactions through other branches of the bank. Although they are not very hopeful of the outcome, but the residents intend to appeal for the compensation of the financial loss they have incurred as a result of this incident.

(By Aisha Masood, The News-14, 02/01/2008)

Keamari katchi abadis yet to be regularised

KARACHI, Jan 4: Around 70 per cent of the Keamari Town population lives in abject poverty and most of its old localities are yet to be regularised, a survey of the town shows.

The town, carved out from the defunct district west, comprises coastal and rural areas mainly comprising katchi abadis.

Some of the oldest localities yet to be regularised are Mohammadi Colony, Mauripur, Grex, Muwach Goth and Raees Goth whereas a large number of old localities are stretched all along the Hawkesbay road. Quite a few of these localities have water, power, gas, sewerage and municipal services available to their poor residents.

Mohammadi Colony, located in the periphery of the Karachi Fish Harbour on the main Mauripur Road, has existed for more than 30 years and yet it is without a proper water and drainage system.

Residents of the colony have long been demanding basic amenities to be provided to them, saying that the absence of a proper sewerage system and municipal service, filth, dirt and garbage remain unattended, creating dangerously unhygienic conditions in and around the colony.
Heaps of garbage and filth in the streets have created stinking atmosphere making living in the locality unbearable.

Samiul Haq, a school teacher who lives in the colony, recalled that labourers and fishermen had raised the structures with their hard-earned money to provide shelter to their families but the people in power never extended any help in facilitating their life. Even the basic amenities had not been provided to the colony, he added, and regretted that the authorities concerned were still reluctant to regularise the katchi abadi and had always been keeping them on false promises.

The issues of clean water, health and education have always remained pressing problems for the Keamari Town population. Certain plans to provide basic amenities and municipal services to many of the old localities did not materialise because of a dispute on their jurisdiction between the KPT and other civic agencies. Resultantly, the problems being faced by their residents remained unresolved and continued to multiply.

Land disputes in the coastal and rural areas of the town are also on the rise in the absence of a clear-cut policy and demarcation of the plots under occupation of the villagers.

(Dawn-18, 05/01/2008)

False NOC for private function in the hockey ground: Shehri-CBE
No park or amenity plot can be used for private functions, as is writ in the bylaws of our constitution, still there are quite a few, who do not abide by the laws and arrange private functions at public places.

Shehri—Citizens for Better Environment (CBE) has highlighted such violation of law that occurred recently at a hockey ground located on Khalid Bin Waleed Road. The ground was made available for a private function on December 26. Since the ground is situated in a purely residential area of Union Council (UC) 7, Jamshed Town, and is used by a large number of people for walking and sports activities daily, it caused great hardship to the residents as well.

Although in a letter written to the Town Nazim, Javed Ahmed two days before the function, General Secretary of Shehri, Amber Alibhai had complained about this violation reminding him that private functions in public parks are against the orders of the superior courts and the Nazim’s office as well but the function was held in the ground as per schedule.

UC Nazim, Zahid Saeed told The News that he too had requested the town nazim to cancel the permission two days before the event. He referred to a letter (dated July 12, 2006) from Town Municipal Administration (TMA), with directions to the UC to ensure that no such permission will be issued as per the orders of superior courts and the provincial government. In response to that request and the Shehri’s letter, town nazim issued a No Objection Certificate (NOC) on the very day of the event allowing the function to be held, said Saeed.

“The NOC is false and an open violation of law,” says the Shehri general secretary, also referring to the Article 52-A of KDA Order 5 of 1957 (as after its amendment by Act XXIII of 1994). The subsection (2) in the said article reads as: “(2) no amenity plot reserved for the purpose mentioned in clause (1) shall be converted to or utilised for any other purpose.”

‘Is it compassion or corruption?’ Shehri has put a question to the concerned authorities. While pursuing the matter, they have written another letter to the town nazim holding him directly responsible for the illegal action. “We regret that the nazim did not take action lawfully. Parks are public spaces and this does not do well for the open spaces of the town,” maintained general secretary, Shehri.

On June 16, 1993, the then Commissioner Karachi, Mohammad Javed Ashraf Hussain wrote to the Administrator KMC and the DG KDA reminding them that the Sindh High Court (SHC) has restrained KMC and KDA from violating the sanctity of parks and public amenity spaces, highlights Shehri in its second letter to the town nazim.

The letter also points out that on November 23, 1993 the then Deputy Secretary Coordination of Services and General Administration Department, Implementation Wing, Government of Sindh, Lal Din Kashmiri had circulated a directive to the Administrator, KMC and the DG, KDA informing them that there was “a ban on use of public parks and gardens falling within the administrative control of KMC and KDA for marriages and private functions.” He had said that any defiance will be dealt severely.

Shehri claims that despite the law in place since 1993, notification and directives of your own department, an officer of the rank of Town Officer, Municipal Regulation, Khalid Waqar gave a written permission to President Musharraf of Plot No 146-L, Block 2, PECHS to hold a marriage function of his relatives residing in Nazimabad in the same hockey ground. The electricity was stolen through a kunda (illegal) connection, from the Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) poles in front of 149-J and 149-L while the parking was done inside and around the green park in the 40-feet-wide lane.

As a consequence of private functions in the parks and playgrounds, the place usually becomes unusable for public for three days: prior to, the day off and the day after the event. People destroy the parks, damage the ground, trees, grass and walking paths. Furthermore, the streets are clogged with parking and undesirable elements take advantage and commit crimes in the area.

The said hockey ground is in the jurisdiction of Ferozabad police station, which the Shehri general secretary has emphasised, has the highest number of car theft, phone snatching and other street crimes. The concerned citizens demand a probe in this open violation of law, however, despite several attempts, the town nazim, who issued that NOC was not available for comments.

(By Aisha Masood, The News-20, 05/01/2008)

Ex-KBCA chief indicted in corruption case
KARACHI, Jan 5: The Special Anti-Corruption Judge, Karachi, Syed Gul Munir Shah, on Saturday indicted a former chief of the Karachi Building Control Authority and other KBCA officials in a corruption case.

The accused, Brig (retd) A.S. Nasir, former chief controller of the KBCA; Akhlaq Ahmed, ex-senior building controller; Mumtaz Haider, ex-deputy building controller; Ali Zafar Qadri, ex-senior building controller; Mohammad Faheem, ex-deputy controller; Jafar Imam, ex-assistant deputy controller; Mohiuddin Sharif and Hawa Bahi pleaded not guilty and opted to contest the case.

The other accused in the case are Gul Mohammad Khanani, owner of Gul Plaza; Syed Mehmood Ali, senior town building control officer; Abdul Rehman Ansari, district controller of buildings, and Ahsan, assistant controller of buildings, have already been indicted in the case. They had also pleaded not guilty and opted to face the charges.

The judge fixed Feb 9 as the next date of hearing and would summon all prosecution witnesses to appear in court to record their statements in the case on the next hearing.

They were charged under the Pakistan Penal Code’s Sections 161 (public servant taking gratification other than legal remuneration in respect of an official act), 162 (taking gratification, in order, by corrupt or illegal means, to influence public servant), 163 (taking gratification for exercise of personal influence with public servant), 409 (criminal breach of trust by public servant or by banker, merchant or agent), 419 (punishment for cheating by impersonation), 420 (cheating and dishonestly inducing of property), 468 (forgery for purpose of cheating) and 471/34 (using as genuine a forged document) read with Section 5(2) of the Provision of Corruption Act, 1947. The charge related to plot PR-I/32, Preedy Quarters, now a big centre of imported items.

The former KBCA chief and four officials of the division concerned were charged with their complicity with the owner in allowing him to use an area reserved for car parking to build shops.

According to the prosecution, the approval that they had given was contrary to the provision of Section 5-C of the Sindh Regularization Control Ordinance, 2002.

They were charged with processing and approving the building plan by employing corrupt means and abusing their position as public servants by illegally favouring the owner allegedly for millions of rupees.

On Sept 22, the court rejected the application of former KBCA chief Brig (Retd) A.S. Nasir for the cancellation of a corruption case against him. The application was moved on June 16, 2007. The judge, after hearing the arguments from both the defence and state counsel, observed that the application was not maintainable.

The accused had filed another such application under Section 249-A of the Criminal Procedure Code (power of magistrate to acquit accused at any stage), which was already rejected on March 17, 2007.

The court observed that the references given in the application were irrelevant and meant only to prolong the matter. It was stated that the application was moved under wrong provisions of the law and, therefore, was rejected.

(By Ishaq Tanoli, Dawn-17, 06/01/2008)

Defaulting societies may lose their lands

KARACHI, Jan 6: The city government has decided to confiscate the lands allotted to cooperative housing societies which have not been developed for a long time. The societies which have failed to start development of infrastructure and houses on the lands allotted to them long ago would be given a final opportunity and if they did not avail the chance, they would have to lose the land.

The decision has been taken by City Nazim Syed Mustafa Kamal, who has asked all housing societies to start development work on their lands or face the cancellation of the allotment.

He said the city government would provide all the required utilities to the lands if the societies started construction work, saying that development of the lands and construction of houses would benefit their members and help cope with the growing problem of housing in the city.

Mr Kamal pointed out that in Scheme-33, a number of pieces of land had been retrieved from the land-grabbers’ mafia and development of roads, installation of streetlights and laying of water and sewerage lines had been started. It was now up to the societies concerned to start construction of houses on these lands, he added.

He noted that dozens of housing societies had got lands allotted at cheaper rates by committing to provide better housing facilities to people but after a lapse of a long time, they did not start infrastructure development or construction work. Therefore, he added, the city government had decided to confiscate all such lands after issuing the defaulting societies a final notice.

Meanwhile, the city government has issued final show-cause notices to its 262 employees who appeared to be “ghost employees”. The employees belonged to the local government and education departments.

A spokesman for the CDGK said on Sunday that the action had been taken on the order of the city nazim.

He said that EDOs had also warned officers and other employees of their departments against negligence and directed them to discharge their duties efficiently or face dismissal.

(Dawn-14, 07/01/2008)

Apprehensions rise as graveyard space lessens
The people of Gizri have raised their voice against the action taken by the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) that has razed the boundary walls in the Gizri graveyard, which they had built to mark their purchased land.

The stakeholders have alleged that the CBC has done this without taking permission from the owners of the site or serving any notice to them. The graveyard is 300-years-old and most of the buried here belong to the Gizriites, so allege the residents. They also claim that from the very beginning, the graveyard has been maintained by the Gizri people whose ancestors and loved ones are buried therein. The matter is quite a sentimental one as people do not want strangers to be buried next to their loved ones.

Muhammad Azhar Ashraf is one of the claimants whose ancestors are buried there and says that he had purchased the site from the Defence Housing Society (DHS) in 1969. “The CBC officials are trying to get a hold of the open spaces left in the graveyard without consulting the actual owners of the land,” said Ashraf claiming that he holds legal documents, which proves his ownership of the site.

Moreover, Ashraf said that although he had allowed the CBC in the past to use his owned passage in the graveyard so that the authorities would not have any problem in building terraces there, but now that they are trying to seize that passage, which he would never allow them to do.

A few days earlier the CBC workers started digging open spaces in the graveyard and a few people present on the scene tried to stop them. When they paid no heed, the people announced what was happening in the graveyard through an area mosque, following which around 300 to 400 concerned people gathered to stop the action. The crowd then blocked the road and started an agitation against the CBC, however, they were then cooled down by a few others. “It’s a matter of emotions that are attached with the buried ancestors and if we had not stopped the crowd, it would have turned very violent,” said Ashraf.

The people want to resolve this matter in a decent way and do not intend to start a war against the authority, assured Ashraf. However, he also warned that the issue is sentimental and that a law and order situation can occur if the authority were to proceed in the future.

When this dilemma came to the notice of the Nazim of the Union Council (UC) 11, Saddar Town, Rizwan Awan, he spoke to the CBC concerned officer. “I was told that it has been ordered by the Chief Executive Officer (CEO), CBC that any open space available within the graveyard shall be occupied,” said Awan.

“Graveyards can not be someone’s property,” responded the Clifton Cantonment CEO, Zeenat Ahmed when inquired about the issue. She said that the people concerned are fighting over open spaces to bury their family members in the future, “but where do they suggest burying those who die at present?” she said, adding that graves are not for sale.

The CEO said that the CBC has hardly found spaces for about 200 to 250 graves in the Gizri graveyard in a situation where all the graveyards in DHA are almost full. “Keeping a hold over land in the graveyards has been a practice in the past but it is wrong and can not be allowed anymore,” she continued. Ahmed further said that if it continues this way, there would be no space for burying the dead while only a few families would be left with a hold on the graveyards. She believed that a wrong practice has been going on in that graveyard, in which the old caretaker was also involved, and that it had to be discontinued in any case. The CBC has now appointed a new caretaker for the graveyard, she disclosed.

Furthermore, so far, none of the claimants have come up with any evidence that they own plots in the graveyard, pointed out Ahmed. However, if they bring any legal documents that prove their ownership of the site, she would then have to pursue the matter with the DHA.

Meanwhile, the grieved have requested the UC nazim to help them solve this matter as “this should be resolved at the earliest if not for the living, then at least for the sake of the souls of the dead,” they believed.

(By Aisha Masood, The News-19, 08/01/2008)

Please save my family graveyard
This is an appeal to my fellow citizens to please help save my family graveyard located in Gizri that is being threatened by the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) with take over for the purpose of resale. This graveyard has a lot of sentimental value for me and my family since my ancestors are buried here. My grandparents from my paternal side are buried there along with my grandmother and uncle from my maternal side. My grandfather Maj Gen (r) Mohammad Ahmed Ashraf, who was a Second World War veteran in the Indian Army, chose to live in Pakistan after partition along with my grandmother Begum Ghausunnisa w/o of Major Gen Ashraf. Also my uncle, who was a diplomat and acted as Commercial Attache in Turkey and represented Pakistan as the High Commissioner in Singapore, owing to his service to the government of Pakistan was allotted an area in the Gizri graveyard. When two of his sons died in a tragic car accident in Turkey, my uncle couldn’t bear the loss and died of shock shortly after the accident. My family here and abroad has a close attachment to this place.

This graveyard is over 300-years-old and now the Defence Housing Authority and Cantonment Board Clifton have taken control of it. They aim to create more graveyard space and claim it is their right to provide graves for the residents of Defence and Clifton. Empty spaces irrespective of closed walls indicating the areas to be reserved areas which have been purchased by the residents are being encroached upon, which is very unfair.

Ever since I was a child I remember the caretaker Mohammad Rasheed coming to our house to take money from my parents for the maintenance of these graves. This goes to show that DHA residents have been responsible for the care of this graveyard. The graves have been made in a haphazard fashion not in an organized way as they should be.

All my life we have read fateha for the deceased buried in this graveyard. I never saw my grandparents. Please help me and my family honour my ancestors by stopping this outrage, in the name of earning a little extra money by CBC.

A graveyard is a sanctimonious place for the solace of the people who want to grieve their dead.

So why is it now that the CBC has to claim what they had abandoned for all these years? Just so that they are able to sell the graves yet again to the highest bidder? It is the job of the authorities to get a plot allotted for the sake of resurrecting a graveyard in Defence and Clifton.

All over the world people buy space in graveyards next to their kith and kin without any issues so why are they making it so painful and stressful for us here in Karachi. My family and I are deeply concerned that these graves in which my elders hoped they too would be buried next to their loved ones are in danger of being usurped by the authorities.

The government authorities are threatening to take over the space available for four graves in our section along with the spaces in other people’s reserved spaces. They say that they will bring in the police and take over all the unused space by putting up a board saying that these are the property of the CBC.

I appeal to the people of my city to please help my family and all those families who stake claim to this graveyard. I also appeal to the conscience of those in the cantonment board of Clifton, especially to the CEO Zeenat Ahmed to revise her decision and put our minds at ease along with the peace that is the right of the dead.

The Cantonment Board January 7, 2008

Defence Housing Authority

Karachi Pakistan

Re: Allotment of graveyard plot in Defence Housing Authority Phase V to Muhammad Sultanul Islam on August 24, 1969

Dear Sir,

On August 22nd, 1969 my two sons, Muhammad Salman Islam and Muhammad Mustafa Islam were killed while riding in a car with General Akhtar Hussain Malik, chief of CENTO in Ankara, who along with his wife and driver also died. This occurred en route to Ankara from Izmir, Turkey. Due to the General’s status they were all given a state funeral in Turkey and the General and his wife and my sons were brought to Pakistan in a C130 with full military honors for burial.

My sons were buried in the Phase V graveyard plot which was allotted to my husband. We built an enclosure built around it as well. My husband thereafter was High Commissioner of Pakistan to Singapore but alas within five years, in 1974, unable to bear the loss of his sons, my husband died suddenly while playing tennis. He was buried next to them.

I am certain that you will realize the enormity of my grief. I have spent hours upon hours sitting by their graves trying to make sense of what destiny doled out to me. I spent thousands of rupees to make a canopy over their graves and white marble around their graves.

It is with shock and great sadness that I have learned that the Cantonment Board now feels that what was allotted to me and what my family spent thousands on is now felt to be the Cantonment Board’s property.

I earnestly entreat you to please accept this letter as proof of my ownership of that graveyard plot. I am 74 years old and plan to be buried next to my husband. This letter will be signed by a Notary Public and couriered to you but until that time, I would like for this to suffice.

I am hoping that you will sympathize with my stunning story and not destroy the last hopes that I have of a decent burial next to my husband and sons.


Afzalunnisa Islam

(The News-19, 09/01/2008)

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