September Issue 2006
Interview: Syed Mustafa Kamal
“It is totally incorrect that CDGK has sold off nullahs like Nehr-e-Khayyam”
– Syed Mustafa Kamal
Q: Six weeks before the first significant rainfall, the Pakistan Meteorological Department predicted a normal monsoon for 2006. How did the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) prepare the city for the rain?
A: The CDGK and its subordinate departments took the necessary measures required for a “normal monsoon.” As per past practice, a ‘Rain Emergency Plan’ was chalked out and all concerned agencies were notified. It really helped in providing relief to Karachiites.
Q: There were only two significant rainfalls, and if the city government prepared itself as you say, why did the city flood, causing so much damage?
A: The truth is, I inherited the problem, which has historical linkages. Karachi is a city of over 15 million people. As a whole, the rainfall this time in Karachi reached a total of six inches. Such rain, even low intensity rains of the past, have proved to be traumatically paralysing to urban life here. In the past, rains have resulted in the destruction of dozens of settlements, displacing thousands of poor families — the whole city administration responded by carrying out relief operations and settling affected people in tents and camps at open grounds and schools. The rains that hit Karachi in 1976 and 1994 are infamous for their damage. Over the years, heavy rains have continually cut off the outlying areas of Korangi, Quaidabad, Qayyumabad, Mehmoodabad and Malir from the rest of the city.
In contrast, during the August 17 rains, most of the city was functioning normally. From the end of Surjani Town and Moach Goth on the Balochistan side to the old areas of Lyari, Mauripur and Keamari, things were far better than ever before. If one objectively makes comparisons with the past, without any biases, the city government handled this year’s emergency reasonably well. The city, by and large, returned back to normal soon after the rain, with only a few exceptions.
Q: Bath Island residents suffered greatly after the rains and are understandably angry. They have accused the city of illegally selling off nullahs like the Nehr-e-Khayyam to the land mafia, with a blatant disregard for citizens’ needs. How do you respond to these allegations?
A: Over a period of time the natural storm nullahs, like in Clifton, have been encroached upon. No doubt Bath Island residents suffered greatly — and they have a right to be angry. However, Gulshan-e-Faisal is a private housing society in Bath Island in a low-lying area that was developed without arrangements for the required drainage. Thus, rain water flowing from the surrounding areas was trapped there. The absence of a drainage system in any scheme is a serious departure from basic principles of planning and engineering and is the main source of inconvenience to residents. The CDGK has now chalked out a programme for the provision of a drainage system.
Also, the Frere Town Nullah, now known as the Glass Tower Nullah, serves the areas of Cantt Station, Jinnah Hospital, Gora Qabrastan, Naval Colony and its immediate surroundings. Encroachments on the nullah downstream caused severe flooding in Clifton Block-8. We have removed heavy structures raised by owners of big bungalows on this nullah, regardless of the status or personality of the encroacher, in order to restore the natural flow and avoid any future blockage problems.
It is totally incorrect that CDGK has sold off nullahs like Nehr-e-Khayyam. In October 1990, 15 years before my election as nazim, the KDA’s governing body approved planning of commercial plots and flats in Nehr-e-Khayyam. I have issued instructions to stop further activity, including the disposal of plots.
Q: But many citizens are upset, saying that you actually chose not to clear the encroachments on the Frere Town nullah. Instead you have let “powerful” encroachers stay and your solution involves a new 48-inch storm drain at an incredible cost to taxpayers. Are the rich and powerful getting what they want off the backs of taxpayers?
A: Owners of at least 14 adjacent bungalows had occupied the nullah by constructing parking lots, gardens, tennis courts and even a swimming pool. We are in the process of restoring all the nullahs, irrespective of the powerful status of the occupants. No one is too powerful when the facilities to the common man are interrupted — law and authority shall prevail.
Q: The KESC has pledged to compensate families of electrocuted citizens. But most streets were flooded because of blocked sewer lines and nullahs that were the CDGK’s responsibility. Will the city accept ownership of their role in these deaths?
A: In all cases of relief and compensation to deceased citizens, funds are provided by the Government of Sindh. Compensation on account of electrocution is paid by the KESC, as per law. The CDGK is playing its due role to ensure the payment of compensation to the families of the deceased through the Government of Sindh and Karachi Electric Supply Corporation.
Q: Many business owners, like those in Urdu Bazaar and Nursery furniture market, suffered large financial losses when water overflowed from the streets into their stores, ruining inventory. Will you offer them compensation?
A: There are policies and rules for the granting of compensation in cases where there has been damage to life and property. Cases for compensation will be taken up as per policy guidelines and availability of funds from the provincial government.
Q: When the underpass flooded, a blame game erupted between CDGK and the KPT. What are you doing now to work with the KPT to ensure that the same problem doesn’t recur?
A: As far as the KPT underpass is concerned, the construction of a drainage system has been initiated to allow rain water to pass freely, starting from Clifton Bridge upto the underpass on both sides.
KWSB is laying large pipes along the underpass on Khayaban-e-Iqbal as it crosses Khayaban-e-Rumi for the disposal of storm water into the Nehr-e-Khayyam for ultimate disposal in Boat Basin. Similarly, a passage for storm water has been provided in Clifton Block-7.
I have asked the KWSB to convert the recently laid three-mile-long temporary storm water drain in Clifton into a permanent one so that it may serve as an alternative drainage system for Clifton’s Blocks 8 and 9 for the next 40 years. It is expected to be completed by January.
Q: Many people believe that political corruption and patronage have crippled the government’s capacity of making prudent decisions that are in the best interest of the city. Can you respond to those charges?
A: I am sorry. Allegations are made without checking the facts. I have introduced strict checks, including regular monitoring and an effective pre- and post-audit system.
In comparison to other localities of the city, Bath Island and Clifton hardly constitute three union councils out of a total of 178 UCs in Karachi. Problems there were restricted to a radius of just three square kilometres in comparison to Karachi’s total metropolitan area of 3,500 square kilometres. The number of the worst affectees could, at maximum, be 2,000 families or households against the city’s total of more than 2 million households.
Q: Urban planning experts have suggested securing Karachi’s nullah system by converting the nullahs into closed box culverts with decentralised water treatment plants? Have you considered these suggestions and will you work with the KWSB and concerned interest groups to fix Karachi’s nullah system?
A: I have no idea of any such study. But I have already requested the KWSB to plan and develop an adequate drainage system for Karachi.
Q: Can you promise the people of Karachi that you are taking serious and immediate action to address the root causes of this year’s floods (encroached nullahs, a lack of emergency equipment, clogged sewerage lines) and that Karachi will not experience the same flooding problems next year?
A: It is unfortunate that the required drainage system is not provided in Karachi. Necessary steps have been initiated for availability of a well-planned drainage system to meet the city’s needs for the next 40-50 years.
Q: In February, the present city government was allocated 4.5 billion rupees for water and sewerage upgrades. The public has a right to know how this money has been, and is being, used. Are you prepared to open the city’s books and have independent auditors scrutinise how this money has been spent?
A: Yes, I am very strict in the area of financial discipline and I will go by the Local Government Ordinance Financial Rules in ensuring that the amount allocated is wisely used to provide maximum relief to the residents of this megapolis through the application of a proper and efficient audit system.
Q: How do you rate your own performance in handling the flood crisis?
A: Common citizens of Karachi are the best judge. A majority of the population of Karachi are not only satisfied but acknowledge the work done by the CDGK.
In the wake of the recent monsoon, the local administration took great measures as part of its duty. If you ask me about the responsibilty for the entire city, I would say that the CDGK is responsible for only 35 per cent of the area, whereas about 24 agencies are also operating and handling civic services. In such a situation, criticism directed at the CDGK, alone, in the last couple of weeks, is unfair and somewhat misdirected.
Also, Karachiites suffered in the wake of the recent rains because my predecessor spent only one billion rupees from the 29-billion-rupee Karachi package on the construction of storm water drains. Shortly after becoming the city nazim, I had made it mandatory that no road would be constructed unless utility service lines were relocated on either side of a road and provisions were made for storm water drains.
Abdul Isphani Road, Garden Road and M.A. Jinnah Road were all reconstructed during my tenure. These roads were neither flooded with rain water nor covered with potholes, as the roads were lined with storm water drains.
I am not responsible for those areas which do not fall under the jurisdiction of the City District Government Karachi. In this regard, a proposal had been initiated for unity of command as far as provisions of basics amenities are concerned. As long as the municipal services continue to be managed by 24 different civic agencies, the problems that were faced by Karachiites during the recent rains will multiply.