The Gentrification of Karachi’s Coastline

1. Background

Karachi has a 27 kilometre long coastline in addition to numerous creeks and mangrove forests. Most of this coastline is dotted with ancient fishing villages. More than half of it is visited by hundreds of thousands of Karachiites every week for recreation and entertainment. After 1999, attempts at its gentrification through global capital and Dubai and Malaysia based real estate companies have been made. There is a background to this.

In 1999, through a military coup, General Musharraf dismissed the democratically elected government in Pakistan and became the country’s Chief Executive. He appointed a Chief Vice Executive of the Citibank as Finance Minister who in 2004 was appointed Prime Minister. He also appointed a very senior economist of the World Bank as the Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan whose additional job was that of chairperson of the National Commission for Government Reforms. Another important World Bank person was appointed as the Minister for Finance, Planning and Development in Sindh province. In 2002, he was made federal minister for Privatisation and Investment.

One of the first acts of the Musharraf government was to initiate local body reforms, replacing the old colonial system by elected mayors at the level of the district, sub-districts and city districts. The process known as “devolution” led to the implementation of the provincial Local Body Ordinances. In Sindh, the province in which Karachi is located, the Sindh Local Government Ordinance (SLGO) was enforced and Karachi became an autonomous city government in 2001.

Its first mayor initiated a major signal-free road building programme, complete with flyovers and underpasses. During his time, the federal government backed Lyari Expressway was also initiated, displacing over 200 thousand people. Civil society organisations and also the city planners had serious concerns regarding these initiatives. However, unlike earlier, the city planners were not the decision-makers. The programme remained modest due to the conservatism of the mayor.

With the election of the second mayor, things changed. He was “dynamic” had international links and represented Karachi’s main political party. The road building programme was expanded and projects for “beautifying” Karachi were developed aggressively. New terms, seldom use before (such as world class city, investment friendly infrastructure, direct foreign investment, cities as engines of growth, privatisation, golden handshake, build, operate and transfer, build, operate and own, etc) entered the development and planning vocabulary. In addition, foreign companies started visiting Karachi and missions from IFIs also increased substantially. Due to all these new developments, projects replaced planning.

During the period of 1991-2006, Dubai based companies having multi-billion dollar portfolios entered into negotiations with the government of Pakistan and other prospective private sector partners. These companies included Dubai World, Emaar, Limitless and Nakheel. A profile of these companies is given in Appendix – 1.

As a result of the new culture that was projected, many beach development projects were proposed and some were carried out. In the sections below a brief description and civil society response to them are given.

2.  Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Waterfront Development Project

The DHA began as the Pakistan Defence Officers Housing Society. It consists of 3,530 hectares and is the most elite area of the city. It contains luxury apartments and homes, schools, colleges, clubs, posh shopping centres with designer boutiques, and five and six star hotels. Functioning of the Authority is vested in two bodies: the Governing Body, headed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and the Executive Board headed by the Karachi Corp Commander of the Pakistan Army. The housing society also contains about 18 kilometres of coastline and creeks.

In 2002-3, the DHA built a promenade along a stretch of beach. It came to be known as Sea View. It was a major addition to recreation for the city of Karachi. As a result, people shifted from other beach fronts to it. Hawkers, jugglers, animal performers, camels and horses for riding, invaded it. The DHA was horrified for it wanted its beach to be used by “decent people”. So, it banned all hawkers, performers and other persons serving the poorer sections of the population from the beach front. It set up expensive food outlets along this stretch of beach. As a result, poor people stopped coming here. This stretch came to be known as the rich man’s beach and a beach adjacent to it in the jurisdiction of the city government, where all activity was permitted, as the poor man’s beach. The difference of activities and costs at both the beaches are given in Appendix – 2.

The Urban Resource Centre (URC) took up this issue by articles and letters in the press and the media also made it an important issue. Finally, the DHA resident society interviewed and made the DHA management relax the conditions they had imposed. Meanwhile, the city government developed the poor man’s beach as a park and turned away all the hawkers and performers from there as well. However, they have come back on the entrances to the park and in the lanes next to it by informally paying the city government staff and officials.

However, in 2004, the DHA initiated another project. Its promotional literature described the project: “In Karachi, DHA has a virgin, unspoiled waterfront of nearly 14 kilometres ready with full potential for development… The residents of Karachi will soon see a qualitative change in their lives and their concept of relaxation, style and fun. Fire of creativity and imagination is promising to make Karachi beachfront a much sought-after tourist destination in the foreseeable future. Entirely practical and wholly realizable projects will have a deep impact on the lifestyle of the people of Karachi whose perception of enjoying the sea at present consists of riding a camel or a horse or just taking a walk on the wet sand and watching the waves crash on the shore. They will soon have access to multiple recreational activities within their reach.”

The project also involved the “reclamation of 74.5 acres of land for a high-end hotel complex”, “5-star hotels owning private segments of the beach” and a “private beach with lagoon for hotel and residential blocks”. It also included Emaar’s “Crescent Bay Project” with a 7-star hotel and 4,000 super luxury apartments with private beaches and lagoons. Civil society organisations argued that as a result of these developments, 20% of the beach will not be available to the public but even the remaining 80% that is meant to be available is beyond the disadvantaged and the poor’s economic power to access.

Furthermore, civil society organisations had a number of other objections. They pointed out that the DHA project was a clear violation of the Doctrine of Public Trust principle, which guarantees public access to beaches even if they are privately owned. It was also a violation of Section 12 of the Environment Protection Act 1997 and also of the Pakistan Environment Protection Agency Regulations 2000. It was also a violation of the Sindh Government Notification of May 1975 which prohibits the leasing of land within the area of the ports or seashore limits. A project of this magnitude must also undergo environmental assessment under the laws (as beaches are included as ‘sensitive areas’). And then, Article 9 of the Constitution about promoting the quality of life of all citizens is also violated as the project only promotes the well-being of those who can use and afford the facilities it is offering.

A number of environmental issues also surfaced, such as, development between the coastal roads and the Karachi beach comes in the way of the preservation of bio-diversity as well as the natural environment. As a result, people will no longer be able to access the beach in its natural condition and will no longer be able to see the wildlife (especially during the winters).

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