Value Extraction from Land and Real Estate in Karachi

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.

These projects, along with the other projects located in the KPT areas and the sale of the islands, were opposed by civil society organisations backed by prominent Karachi citizens; the Wildlife Fund Pakistan; national, provincial and Karachi based fishermen’s organisations; trade unions; low income schools and CBOs from all over Sindh through a signature campaign by the URC; academia; and concerns voiced by some corporate sector heads, planners from within the city government and senior provincial bureaucrats. These organisations and individuals argued that as a result of these developments Karachiites would lose an important part of their entertainment and recreation assets; the services sector that served these facilities would lose its livelihood; fishing villages would lose access to their fishing grounds and livelihoods and a large number of them would be evicted; immense environmental damage would be caused to wildlife and the natural environment, especially to the mangrove marshes and also that these projects were strictly speaking illegal as they violated the Public Trust Doctrine and the governments own environment related laws.

The most important role in opposing the projects was played by the Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum which is a network of fishing communities from all over Sindh province. They were able to mobilise their network and carry out large scale demonstrations in various Sindh cities. They also produced a position “letter” refereeing to the project as development to destroy nature and displace people. The letter was an outcome of consultations between various stakeholders, especially fishing and low income communities. Among other things the letter pointed out that the projects posed a threat to the coastal ecosystems as they were destroying major breeding areas of the green turtle, the resting place of migratory birds and the nurseries for shrimps and several fish species. The letter also pointed out that fishing communities have been living on the coast for centuries and that the proposed developments would destroy not only their economy but also their cultural heritage and make access to the tombs of their saints, where their yearly festivities are held, difficult if not impossible.        

The projects were shelved except for the DHA Crescent Bay Project which was well on its way before the other projects and opposition to them was launched. In the areas where the projects were supposed to take place, the DHA has now planned residential and commercial schemes consisting of small plots. In these schemes the beaches are accessible and no further reclamation from the sea is being carried out. The reasons for the shelving of the projects are not clear. Maybe it was because of the recession of 2010, or because of the deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi, or because of civil society opposition, or a combination of all three. However, as a result of this opposition, certain criteria for the preservation of the coastline were incorporated in the Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020 (KSDP-2020) which was being formulated while opposition to the projects were taking place. These criteria include that no reclamation from the sea, mangrove marshes, mud flats (which are fish and turtle nurseries) is permitted. Also, all the beaches would be accessible to the fishing communities and to the public. No development between the high water mark and 150 metres beyond it, or on the seaward side of the coastal roads, is permissible. The KSDP-2020 was approved by the city council in December 2007. Under the provisions of the KSDP, none of the proposed projects can possibly be built. However, two of these projects do not fall in the jurisdiction of the city government but of military cantonments and the DHA who are under no obligations to follow the KSDP provisions. Meanwhile, another form of gentrification has taken place in the shape of the Port Grand Project in Karachi (see Box: The Port Grand Project in Karachi). Such gentrification through small scale improvement projects are being discussed for various locations in the city centre.

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