Under Threat: Karachi's Amenity Plots   |   Shehri-Citizens For A Better Environment
Karachi’s Amenity Plots

By Roland DeSouza, February 24, 2011

The writer works at Fahim, Nanji & deSouza, Consulting Engineers, and has an abiding interest in civic issues

The citizenry is appalled at the legislation submitted in the Sindh Assembly, “The Sindh Protection and Prohibition (sic) of Amenity Plots Bill 2009”, which ostensibly purports to provide protection for amenity plots, but, in reality, subjects these public spaces to the whims and fancies of corrupt elements and land-grabbers.

There are four noteworthy sections of the proposed law: 1) Section 1(2): “It shall come into force at once and shall be deemed to have taken effect on and from 2nd day of May, 1994”. 2) Section 3: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law for the time being, force or any judgment, order or decree of a court, no amenity plot shall be converted to or utilised for any purpose, but subject to the provisions of Section 4 of this Act.” 3) Section 4: “Whenever, if the Provincial Assembly passes a resolution to the effect that an amenity plot may be converted to or utilised for any other purpose, Government shall, after receiving the resolution passed by the Assembly, process the matter in the prescribed manner.” 4) Section 5: “The provisions of the Act shall have overriding effect, notwithstanding anything contained in any law for the time being in force.”

A plain reading shows that, while pretending (in Section 3) to prohibit the conversion of an amenity plot or its utilisation for any other purpose, the bill essentially allows (in Section 4) the assembly to resolve to convert an amenity plot or utilise it for any other purpose. This proposed law (in Section 4) will override any other existing law, and will be deemed (in Section 1[2]) to have taken effect from May 2, 1994 (the date of an amendment to the KDA Order of 1957 that actually proscribed the misuse and conversion of amenity plots).

Thus in one stroke, the assembly will be empowering itself to condone any and all illegal conversions made over the past 17 years, and will be laying the path wide open to opportunities for new environmentally-degrading changes in amenity land-use.

Despite continuing citizen protests over recent years about jiyalas/activists of the political coalition partners in Sindh blatantly occupying parks, playgrounds and other amenity plots all over Karachi, the provincial government and the CDGK (City District Government Karachi) have not taken lawful actions to evict the encroachers. The city has been densified beyond recognition and illegally built-upon, and the number of originally planned amenity plots (hospitals, schools, colleges, graveyards, roads, libraries, community centres, sewage treatment plants, places of worship, municipal/utility spaces, government building plots, transport system plots, police stations, open spaces for ease and expansion, etc) are completely inadequate to serve the burgeoning population. Consequently, schools and hospitals are being opened in residences, police stations established in parks/green belts, and children have to play football and cricket on public roads, which can be dangerous.

Without proper recreational opportunities and open spaces, adverse psychological and social pressures of life are increasingly affecting the population, especially the poor, and the level of violence and crime is escalating.

The superior courts in Pakistan have held in innumerable cases that the constitutionally-protected fundamental right to life, under Article 9, includes the right to a clean and healthy environment. How can this be achieved if amenity function spaces are to be gobbled up for pelf? If the members of the provincial assembly are to become town planners, and arrogate to themselves the right to determine where, and where not, an amenity plot is required, this country will come to a sorrier pass than where it now finds itself.

Concerned citizens have strongly objected to the presentation of a piece of legislation that will worsen the quality of life in the urban areas of Sindh. Rather, it is suggested that the provincial government works with the city administration, CDGK, to implement the recent directive of the Supreme Court to remove all kinds of non-conforming encroachments from the amenity spaces of Karachi.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2011.