The price of an Island

Our fisheries and 300,000 lives

by Najma Sadeque

When fisherfolk heard that private developers had announced an island landgrab, they couldn’t understand why it was happening again, that too under a government they voted for.

In 2006, former PM Shaukat Aziz tried to unilaterally bulldoze through a decree for the benefit of Emaar, a Gulf firm, in which he had a vested interest. But massive protests led to the Sindh government having the project stopped.

For the last 12 years, the Port Qasim Authority (PQA), flexing its unwarranted federal-stature muscle, made unending efforts to claim ownership of the island for development for the privileged. The Sindh government has repeatedly clarified that PQA and KPT are federal institutions, and lands leased to PQA were strictly for port-related operations that never included the islands. The islands belong to the Sindh government, specifically the 300,000 strong fisherfolk community.

Why then is history repeating itself with merely new players? Seemingly, unimaginative investors think only of conspicuous consumerism for people with money to blow. Also because predatory foreign investment is scouring a destabilised world, snapping up real-estate for quick returns from concrete. This is confirmed by a very revealing recent report by Naseer Memon and Zubeida Birwani on behalf of Pakistan Mahigeer Tehreek and the Trust for Conservation of Coastal Resources.

In 2001, a private company sought to acquire the island for a Theme Park. Fisherfolk needed drinking water, clinics, and such; not frivolous activity. The Sindh government took exception. The EDO (Revenue) then reiterated that ownership of the islands vested with the provincial government.

In 2002, the city district government, four entrepreneurs and a Thailand company offered an MoU for establishing the “Karachi Technology Island City” on 300 acres opposite the Karachi creek. The Army Welfare Trust and Pakistan Software Houses Association were partners. But the Sindh government wouldn’t budge.

PQA has been aggressively eyeing the island for long. It formed a consortium with leading Japanese and Korean companies to set up a terminal for Liquid Natural Gas (LNG). The Sindh government did not appreciate this either and the unwanted potential investors were dispatched with.

Thereafter the stubborn PQA allotted 2,700 acres of land to the Pakistan Navy without any authorisation whatsoever. Although Pakistan Navy shifted its plans and facilities elsewhere, it is nevertheless trying to hang on to the islands; so is the Defence Housing Authority.

The brazen advertisements of Riaz Malik and Thomas Kramer boasts wild unproven claims of the Island City project creating 2.5 million job opportunities, housing for one million in 125,000 units, the world’s biggest mall and tallest building, associating its standards with Miami Beach USA and Germany, 55 industries including of cement, brick, iron and glass. Even if half the claims were true, who are the beneficiaries? Certainly not the poor and marginalised fisherfolk whose share of national resources is consistently being stolen.

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What kind of jobs are they going to create? Most of them would be low-paid and temporary doing back-breaking digging work, which fisherfolk may be forced to take up because the fish were being killed off. The skilled and highly-qualified professionals would be those who already had jobs or can get jobs elsewhere with ease. The ecological cost would be crippling.

Once the ultra-wealthy move in, their ostentatious lifestyles separated from the middle-class by multiple bridges, accessed by plush cars and four-wheel drives, the fisherfolk community will have to move out, their fishing grounds and nurseries destroyed by toxic urbanization. 5,000 to 7,000 fishing craft would lose direct access to the open seas, while destroying the lives and livelihoods of over 300,000 fisherfolk.

In 1971, there were over 650,000 acres of mangroves along the coast. Today these have dwindled to some 45,000, that too with the replanting efforts of various NGOs. It is simply not enough. More mangroves, not imitation Miamis’ or decadent Dubais’ are needed.

Riaz Malik was as contemptuous as he was confident in his press briefing; a similar project had not been allowed before, he said, but do it, we will. Not even honest or elected government could stop it, was the unspoken message. Declaration that the global land-grabbers have already won? Because it’s not just coastal, but agricultural and urban land up for grabs as well.

“Pakistan is signatory of the Ramsar Convention which places the entire wetlands of the Indus Delta under it as a protected area,” says Zubeida Birwani, adding, “The fisherfolk possess historical rights, yet they’ve never been consulted. The Sindh government has not issued any NOC to the developers. Violations are being committed instead. The coastal mangroves should be under the forest department, not Port Qasim and KPT. Decisions should be coming from the provincial government as under the 18th amendment. This illegal project has to be stopped.”

It had better, otherwise both votes and fisheries will disappear.

This article was published in Pakistan Today, March 18, 2013 http://www.pakistantoday.com.pk/2013/03/18/comment/columns/the-price-of-an-island/

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In 2006, Emaar with Shaukat Aziz’s help, tried to grab a major island off our coast. Emaar was ejected then following the protests of coastal communities and other civil society, supported by the Sindh government. We thought the matter was closed.
Now just days before the end of a terrible, destructive government, Zardari’s crony, Malik Riaz, seemed to have been encouraged to grab the island for himself. Protests have erupted again. But ostensibly, thanks to millions worth of Bahria advertising money, the channels don’t cover the issue much, or only adequately. Now Malik Riaz suggests that those opposed to his grandiose schemes (including fisherfolk and people like us) are ‘enemies of the state ! Fortunately the SHC has taken notice and we hope it will kill the project.
If you care about our economic assets and our people, it would be nice if you could lend your support through letters to the editor, or signing petitions. – NS

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About denebsumbul

Documentarian, Activist, Journalist, Photographer, Capacity Trainer
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