WEB DESK: Perhaps, the 13 who perished under tons of loose earth in Karachi early Tuesday morning were absolutely unmindful of the fact that they were living under the looming spectre of death.
They were there for many years now and to their misfortune none of the city-planners or owners of the plots they lived on ever bothered to warn of the impending danger. Their thatched sheds stood right under a tall, perpendicular mud wall threatening to crumble any time.
Why the wall stood at 90 degree angle and was not sloped as should have been the case while landscaping a mud hillock for a residential habitat, nobody had asked. What brought it down? Was it a natural occurrence or a planned act?
There is no answer also and may never be given the fate of many an official inquiry in such tragedies. But it is evident in the plain sight that it was their extreme poverty that had penned them into that death trap. Also, that they had been befooled into moving to the mega city in search of better life leaving behind their homes and hearths in southern Punjab.
They are said to be paying just about a thousand bucks monthly rent to the owners of the plots, whose identity remains a mystery as is often the case with China-cutting allotments in Karachi. And they didn’t have to pay for electricity courtesy the widely-applied ‘kunda’ device.
But as they lay buried under massive boulders none from the China-cutting machine was in hurry to retrieve the bodies of the 13 poor souls. Media reports say the locals with primitive hoes and spades in hands, dozens of Edhi volunteers and a number of Chhipa ambulances were there at the site hours before the city rulers and their rescue teams showed up. It did not take long to send their bodies back to the villages they had come from.
What had happened in Karachi on Tuesday is not the first of its kind nor would it be the last; such unfortunate incidents are part of life. But what makes one different from the other and should be looked into rather incisively is to have knowledge if it could be averted. On the face of it, had necessary care been taken by the greedy plot owners, who had extensively excavated the mud hillock changing its incline into a straight wall just to enlarge their plots, and the relevant rules and regulations enforced by the city planners these 13 lives could have been saved.
Given its magnetism for its low-cost living and huge employment potential Karachi is getting enlarged faster than any other city in Pakistan. And surely it would remain the destination for many for many years to come. As the city would expand over the time it is expected to move into an even more inhospitable terrain. If all those who come here are driven by its magnetism, or they are obliged to take this road to escape intolerable conditions that tend to obtain in their ancestral homes – there is the debate of course.
One would say with some degree of certitude that many of them who arrived in the port city were not the economic migrants; they were driven out from their homes by the ever-growing incidence of injustice and lawlessness that they confront on day-to-day basis, and sometimes lured into taking the road to mega city by their misplaced dreams of better life. Possibly, these 13 who eked out sub-human existence in Karachi for about 12 years would have lived much better life back home in the agriculturally rich-cotton producing districts of Rahimyar Khan and Bahawalpur.
They might have left their villages because life in there was insecure and no more livable, as much at the hands of politically patronised criminals as under the misrule of local officials. Assure the rural population readily available justice and you would have cut down on the flow of migration to cities.
At the same time, there is the dire need to reinvent an extension plan for the mega city – no less crucially by weeding out the China-cutting designers and quashing the ‘sanctified’ encroachments – keeping in view the limitations particularly the ones dictated by the lay of the land and availability of potable water.