Encroachment removal needed to retrieve KCR lands

Karachi: Karachi presently has been witnessing a robust drive against illegal encroachments and recently a 14-acre government plot at Chakra Goth is freed from the land grabbers; however, despite the orders of Supreme Court of Pakistan to remove encroachments from railway lands, in Karachi vast areas of Karachi Circular Railway (KCR) are still in possession of land grabbers and a comprehensive and sustainable drive is needed to retrieve these lands.

Last year, Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah approved a plan to revive the KCR at an estimated cost of over $2.6 billion, which was earlier estimated at $1.58bn. It has jumped to $2.6 billion simply because this project was delayed due to lack of political will. It was decided to remove all encroachments on the lands of KCR route, but the government later dragged feet when it was learnt that powerful land grabbers were involved in occupying the KCR lands, especially in the Gulistan-i-Jauhar, Gulshan-i-Iqbal and Liaquatabad areas. Removal of these encroachments needs demolishing of thousands of structures and it is a big political issue as the dwellers of these illegal structures are also voters of some political parties.

The revival of the KCR could not be initiated till the government and political parties are on one page to remove illegal encroachments on the railway lands in Karachi, particularly the loop of KCR. It is said that the land grabbing mafia has constructed even apartment buildings and flats on the KCR lands and already sold them to citizens. The government bureaucracy is fully aware of the situation but they opt not to intervene as big stakes are involved.

However, these illegal structures could be removed if the administration requests help from the rangers. In Karachi the rangers are mainly busy in maintaining law and order situation, but the administration as per rules can seek the help of police and rangers. The government could also arrange alternate plots for the displaced families on the lines of rehabilitation plans for Lyari Expressway and New Preedy Street plans.

Historically, the KCR project was started in 1964 and it was a huge success financially. However, in later years political governments appointed corrupt and inefficient officers without merit who systemically failed this national project to befit private road-based public transporters and finally this mega project was closed down in 1999. In early years of Gen Musharraf era it was announced to revive the KCR and big ceremonies were also arranged in which top bosses of Sindh had ‘formally’ inaugurated this projects and a series of costly advertisements on government expense had also been launched to praise the historic revival of the KCR. However, the citizens of Karachi have seen a lot of such political gimmicks and practically the KCR remained non-functional and still so.

The revival of KCR is overdue and the provincial government is fully aware of the importance of giving Karachi a respectable urban public transport system. The successful running of Metro bus project in Lahore and initiating of work on Rawalpindi Metro bus project have put huge political pressure of the government of Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) led government of Sindh to modernize public transport infrastructure of its main cities, especially the mega city of Karachi which has become virtually a ‘Chingchi city’ due to dearth of public transport. The revival of KCR is the basis of modernizing public transport sector in Karachi.

It is learnt that the issue of removal of encroachments from the KCR route is under discussion at governmental level and efforts are made to win accent of some political parties that have reservation on displacement of their voters living in illegal residential areas and slums on the KCR land.

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