“If the government didn’t take any steps to save trees, the people of Karachi will have to prepare themselves for another heatstroke, which will be more disastrous.” Gul Hasan Kalmati
By Hanif Dilmurad
The Malir district of Karachi, which once provided about 40% of the city’s fruits and vegetables is nowadays facing serious environmental challenges because of illegal sand and gravel lifting from the Malir River.
Despite imposing Section 144 and banning the practice, hundreds of tonnes of sand and gravel are lifted from the river every day.
Malir River, which is 60 miles in length, starts from the Maulh area of Khertar mountainous range, and consists of a large cultivable area comprising a delta and mangroves as well.
The British Raj before partition dug up at least 12 wells on the right bank of Malir River at Dimlotee to cater to Karachi’s water needs. However, now, Malir itself is facing water shortage due to illegal sand lifting from its waterbed. This has badly affected underground water levels as wells have turned dry and deepened by the day.
Urban planner Arif Hasan in his article ‘The Ecology, Land And Transport Link in Karachi: Trends and Directions’ says It is estimated that 2,500 to 3,000 trucks per day of sand and gravel extracted from the river beds are sold at Rs 5,500 ($50) each. Thus, the yearly turnover of this business is $54 million. The lifting of gravel and sand is not permitted by law. However, it continues through informal arrangements with the police and the local government officials”.
Sand lifting from the Malir River is not a recent phenomenon. Karachi, which has now become one of the world’s largest cities, over the years turned into a concrete jungle; thanks to all gravel provided from Malir, Thado and Sukan rivers. Even small stone for carpeting the roads is provided from Deh Chohar in Malir.
As a result, agriculture lands in Malir have turned barren, making helpless farmers and cultivators cut down trees and selling their wood to earn livelihood.
“The recent heatstroke was linked with environmental change, which was not sudden,” says writer Gul Hasan Kalmati while talking to The Nature News. “If the government didn’t take any steps to save trees, the people of Karachi will have to prepare themselves for another heatstroke, which will be more disastrous.”
An ordinance passed in the Sindh Assembly in 2002 introduced by MPA Abdullah Murad Baloch emphasised how sand lifting from Malir River, Tadho River and Sukan River will affect the district’s environment. Hence, the legislation prohibited sand lifting from the Malir, Tadho and Sukan rivers.
In the 1970s, the Pakistan Peoples Party government led by Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto as part of the plan for Malir’s farmers and cultivators constructed a water reservoir on the Malir River’s Beeli area, which maintained underground water level in the valley. In 1990s, Beeli water reservoir was renovated, but since the government failed to stop gravel lifting, the reservoir failed to serve its purpose. In 2005, the local government built another reservoir near Memon Goth area in Malir but the sand lifting continued unabated.
“Water reservoirs built on Malir River proved pointless because the authorities concerned failed to restrict illegal lifting of sand and gravel,” says activist Hayat Baloch. “Sand and gravel lifting is only allowed in open areas such as Thatta and Jamshoro districts.”
Meanwhile, Federal Minister for Communication Abdul Hakeem Baloch in his recent speech in the National Assembly said “sand in Malir riverbed works as a filter for flood and rainwater but some hidden powers turned Malir into a deserted area.” Hundreds of years old trees have been cut and agriculture lands turned into housing projects. No doubt Karachi is facing environmental crises, he added.
“Left and right banks of Malir River are facing threats as sand has been lifted from bank’s foundations. In any flood-like situation, both sides of the bank could break, resulting in inundation of the entire area,” says journalist Sami Memon.
The lifting practice prevails in the jurisdictions of four police stations, i.e. Memon Goth, Gaddap Town, Shah Latif Town and Steel Town. Cultivator and resident of Dur Mamad Village Darsana Channa Muhammad Siddiqu Baloch has till date filed three petitions each in 2012, 2013 and 2015 in the Sindh High Court (SHC) against sand and gravel lifting but to no avail.
“SHOs of Gadap, SHO Shah Latif and SHO Memon Goth and other departments concerned should strictly act against sand and gravel lifting in their jurisdictions. If they don’t fulfil their responsibilities then court will consider their involvement in this criminal act,” says the Sindh High Court order in 2012.
Baloch said he personally dropped court orders and letters about sand and gravel lifting to secretary Mines and Minerals Development Department, corps commander Karachi, IG Sindh and DG Rangers.
After court orders Memon Goth police station lodged some FIRs but no action was taken against the mafia,” he said. “I know it’s a large chain but the question is who will take action?” he said. “I hope one day I will succeed in saving the environment and greenery of Malir and Karachi. I am also preparing for the 4th petition soon to be submitted in SHC.”
Hanif Dilmurad is a Karachi based freelance journalist and researcher who tweets @HDilmrad
Courtesy: The Nature News