Scores of residents, including women, marched from the Pakistan Hotel to Jam Goth in Malir on Friday to oppose the construction of the Malir Expressway, arguing that it would demolish the oldest villages, displace a large number of people and destroy cultivation.
Last month Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari had performed the groundbreaking of the expressway project, terming it the “biggest civic infrastructure project ever done by any provincial government in Pakistan under public-private partnership”.
The Malir Expressway will be built as an access-controlled 38.5-kilometres-long high-speed toll expressway to connect Karachi’s centre to the M-9, a motorway between Karachi and Hyderabad.
However, residents of more than two dozen oldest villages fear that the expressway’s construction will displace thousands of families after their villages and lands are demolished.
“We will not allow destruction in the name of development,” the Awami Workers Party’s Yousaf Masti Khan told the participants of Friday’s protest, which was organised by an action committee formed by the Indigenous Rights Alliance (IRA).
“In the name of development projects in Malir, the PPP leadership has been converting the indigenous people into a minority and displacing them by the thousands after demolishing their villages.”
IRA General Secretary Hanif Dilmurad, who is also the action committee’s convenor, told The News that the provincial government had not consulted with the residents or the elected representatives of the area about the construction of mega projects that would destroy their homes and livelihoods.
“We have already seen the destruction during the construction of the Lyari Expressway. The people displaced because of that project are still homeless and their suffering hasn’t stopped despite the passage of 17 years,” he lamented. He said urban planners have also criticised the government’s plan to construct the Malir Expressway.
Dr Noman Ahmed, an urban planner and chairman of the NED University’s Department of Architecture & Planning, said the expressway that will favour only the propertied elite is being built along the left bank of the Malir River.
He also said that the cost assessment of the entire project is an estimated Rs27 billion, which is more than the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s total annual budget.
“Karachi has a road network exceeding 10,000 kilometres, much of it dilapidated,” he wrote in an English daily on December 20. “It is difficult to justify funding an expressway that will serve a few when repair and maintenance of existing roads can help millions.”
The protest was also attended by the Jeay Sindh Mahaz’s Abdul Khaliq Junejo, historian Gul Hasan Kalmati, former Bin Qasim Town Nazim Khuda Dino Shah, academic Rukhman Gul Palari and a large number of civil society activists.
A group of PPP lawmakers from Malir — Syed Agha Rafiullah, Jam Abdul Karim Bijar, Muhammad Saleem and Abdul Razak Raja — had on Thursday visited the site where a large number of residents had gathered to express their reservations over the expressway’s construction.
Nasir Shah’s statement
Sindh’s information and local government minister on Saturday said orders have been issued by the relevant provincial authorities to allay the reservations of the residents of District Malir over the newly launched Malir Expressway project, adds our correspondent.
A statement quoted Syed Nasir Hussain Shah as saying that the passage of the under-construction expressway project will be the one having no objection whatsoever from the local population of the area.
He acknowledged that the locals had expressed concerns over the proposed route of the Malir Expressway. He said the reservations had been communicated to the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari by the MNAs, MPAs and office-bearers of the PPP belonging to the district.
The minister said that after taking cognisance of the issue, the PPP chief had directed Sindh Chief Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah and him to allay the reservations of the locals.
The LG minister said that the CM then convened a meeting that was attended by the office-bearers and elected representatives of the PPP from District Malir.
He said that after the meeting, the project director of the Malir Expressway and his team had been sent to Malir with the orders that such a route of the project should be finalised that received no objection from the residents of the area.
He also said that the district will continue to be the stronghold of the PPP in Karachi. He added that the work of the Malir Expressway project will be completed at the earliest.
The statement was issued by the minister a day after a big rally was held by concerned residents of Malir against their forced eviction from their residential areas as a result of the development of the project of the Malir Expressway.
Last month the PPP chairman had performed the groundbreaking of the 38.5-kilometre-long project that would cost an estimated Rs27.58 billion.
The six-lane highway project is expected to be completed in 30 months to provide a speedy exit to the heavy traffic from the downtown area of Karachi on its way upcountry via the M-9 motorway.