The Lyari Expressway: Citizen’s Concerns and Community Resistance

Alternatives To The Lyari Expressway Design

The URC and its supporters through forums and publications have proposed that instead of the building of the Lyari Expressway the river should be dredged and channelised according to the recommendations of the 1978 WAPDA Study and embankments should be built on either side. A proper resettlement plan for people living below the flood line of the Lyari River should be prepared through consultations with the affected communities and their nominated experts. The old settlements and notified katchi abadi, and a large number of shacks, would remain unaffected if the WAPDA Study findings were followed. The recycling and garbage sorting yards in the old city and the Lyari Corridor (and the labour working for them)  should be shifted to solid waste landfill sites through negotiations with the owners and the labour working in them. Such negotiations have already been undertaken by the now defunct Governor’s Task Force for the Improvement of Municipal Services. If the sorting yards and the garbage recycling industry moves along with its labour, very few homes and businesses will be left the Lyari flood line. Wholesaling, manufacturing and related activities should also be transferred to the Northern Bypass and all land acquired in the process and through the channelisation of the river should be used for badly needed amenities for the trans-Lyari settlements and for resettlement of the affectees. The URC also emphasised that to reduce traffic congestion priority should be given to the revival of the Karachi Circular Railway, building of inter-city and intra-city transport terminals, the development and implementation of a traffic plan for the city, and the development of a landuse plan including the establishment of an organisation to oversee its implementation.

An alternative was also developed by Professor Shaoib Ismail who is the Principal of Planning, Engineering and Services, a highly respected consulting firm. His design is based on the WAPDA Study of 1978 and reduces the number of affected families to less than one-quarter of those being affected by the NHA proposal. It saves approximately two billion Rupees on account of compensation alone and one billion Rupees on account of changes in construction technology. In addition, Professor Ismail’s alternative makes the Expressway pass under the existing bridges and as such does not construct “separation walls” along the River. Professor Ismail’s alternative was also sent to the President and to all other concerned agencies but no response from any individual or agency was received.

In spite of the differences between the two alternatives, the two sides agreed on the following: one, that before deciding on a future plan for the Expressway, consultations between government representatives, NGOs, CBOs of Lyari settlements, relevant academic and other stakeholders must be held and a consensus reached between them; two, that the 1978 WAPDA Flood Control Study should be made the basis of all future planning; three, that all settlements and commercial and industrial units in the flood zone should be removed; and four, that a proper relocation plan following Pakistan laws and their procedures should be developed for the affectees and for the commercial and manufacturing units.

Community Opposition To The Expressway

Lyari communities have voiced their opposition to the Expressway in a very organised manner and without violence in spite of the fact that their homes have been bulldozed and/or are marked for demolition. This organised opposition has been supported throughout by two NGOs: the Action Committee for Civic Problems (ACCP) and the URC. Initially, Lyari community turned to the LNWA leadership for initiating a dialogue with the government agencies. When the dialogue did not materialise, they pressurised the LNWA leadership to arrange demonstrations against the project. At this stage, some of the LNWA leadership disappeared from the scene and others became active supporters of the project. According to rumours, the LNWA leadership had been bought over by the government agencies1. Consequently, local activists emerged in different localities. The ACCP created a link between activists of different communities and settlements. It held, and still holds, regular meetings in the settlements under threat. Its members mobilise the communities to hold combined meetings in different settlements on a rotation basis. It assists communities in their legal battles and has helped to establish contact between politicians and the communities. It holds press conferences in which the activists participate. It is because of the linkages that it has created that black flags and banners were hoisted all along the river when General Musharraf inaugurated the Expressway in an unscheduled ceremony late at night on 27 April 2002.

The URC initiated the Expressway debate and has been involved in monitoring developments and commenting on them in the media and through public forums since 1990. It has provided documents on national and international laws on housing rights and katchi abadi to the lawyers representing the affected communities in courts of law. These documents have also been provided to the community activists. It has arranged tours of journalists, NGO activists and concerned citizens to the affected communities. As a result, articles and films against the Expressway project have appeared in the press and on the electronic media. It has sent letters to the President of Pakistan with copies to all other relevant government agencies regarding its concerns over the Expressway. It has published pamphlets on the Project (both in Urdu and in English) and distributed them along with copies of documentary films made by different satellite channels on the subject. It has initiated a letter writing campaign on the subject and sent its concerns to NGOs, UN agencies and civil society organisations all over the world. As a result, on July 17, 2002, the UN took serious notice of the violations of human rights in the Lyari Corridor. In its letter to the President, it criticised the project. Meanwhile, over a thousand international human and housing rights organisations from all over the world sent letters of concerns to the President of Pakistan. In February 2003, the Asian Coalition for Housing Rights (ACHR) sent a Fact Finding Mission which visited the Expressway site and reported major housing rights violations. The Mission was received by the Karachi Nazim. It also met with the Sindh Chief Secretary, the Sindh Minister for Housing and Planning and the NHA General Manager. The Mission was assured that the government would do everything possible for improving the resettlement process and would see to it that physical infrastructure and social facilities are provided at the relocation sites. As a result of this visit of the Mission, attempts to provide social and physical infrastructure to the relocation sites have been made.

As a result of this coming together, the communities collected three million Rupees for litigation purposes. They filed cases against illegal demolitions and attended court proceedings in large numbers. The court stayed the demolitions of leased settlements and finally gave a verdict on October 14, 2003. This verdict will be discussed later in the paper. The communities have also held “people’s assemblies” in which more than three hundred men, women and children (in each assembly) from various settlements of the Lyari Corridor have gathered to protest against the Project. These demonstrations have been held at the Karachi Press Club and at various settlements. Whenever teams for surveys and demarcations of the Expressway alignment have visited the settlements, there have been protests against them led by women and children.

Through the ACCP’s support, eight, All Party Conferences (APC) have been held. At the APCs representatives of political parties have been invited to discuss issues related to the Expressway project and to the demolitions and evictions that are taking place. Representatives of all the political parties voiced their concerns and their opposition to the Expressway project. However, none of the political parties who were represented in the Sindh Assembly were willing to take this issue to the Assembly floor, in spite of the fact that settlements that were their vote bank were being affected. They were interested merely in changing the alignment so as to save the settlements that had voted for them. The strongest opposition to the Expressway came from parties that were not represented in the Sindh Assembly. The Pakistan Peoples Party could not oppose the Expressway because it was initiated in 1994 by them. They simply wanted the original design to be implemented. They expressed concerns over the flawed resettlement plan. The MQM leadership also expressed concern but has not been able (or does not wish to) to do more than that. The Jamat-e-Islami now runs the city government and as such its leaders cannot be expected to oppose the Expressway although a number of them have expressed their concerns in private.

As a result of the inability of the political parties to take a stand on the issue, the various settlements have sought help from their ethnic based or trade organisations. For example, the Baloch population approached the BIF, which is an all Sindh-Balochistan organisation. The BIF has promised full support to the Baloch settlements and has begun a process of contacting its influential members and Baloch political leaders. The Mianwali settlements have sought help and intervention from Mianwali politicians who are members of the National Assembly. There are rumours in the settlements that as a result of these interventions changes in the Expressway design have taken place to save Baloch, Mianwali and certain Mohajir settlements. However, in the absence of consultations and information sharing on the part of the government agencies, the veracity of these rumours cannot be ascertained. With the fear of bulldozing, communities have also become interested in their history. This is especially true of the Baloch some of whose members have started collecting stories about their migration to Karachi from their elders. These stories have been repeated at the people’s assemblies and demonstrations.

  1. Authors dis­cus­sions with activists and the coör­di­na­tor of the ACCP

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  1. […] the 1890s, the river used to split into two branches. One of these, the northern branch, flowed into the Sandspit waters (located between the Hawke’s […]

  2. […] the 1890s, the river used to split into two branches. One of these, the northern branch, flowed into the Sandspit waters (located between the Hawke’s […]

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