Bagh Ibne Qasim controversy dominates assembly session

Bagh Ibne Qasim, once abundant with flora and fauna, is now home to drug addicts and rubbish. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS

Bagh Ibne Qasim, once abundant with flora and fauna, is now home to drug addicts and rubbish. PHOTOS: AYSHA SALEEM/EXPRESS

KARACHI: The controversy surrounding the Bagh Ibne Qasim handed over to a real estate developer dominated the Sindh Assembly session on Friday.

According to a notification issued Thursday night, the local government department took over the 130-acre iconic park from the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and handed it over to Bahria Town.

During the session, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) protested against the decision and to challenge it in court. The ruling Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) and MQM lawmakers blamed each other for encroaching upon government land, including amenity plots, and misusing government resources.

As the session started with Speaker Agha Siraj Durrani in chair, MQM parliamentary leader Syed Sardar Ahmed attempted to speak on a point of order. “Under Rule 232, I can speak on a public interest issue,” he said, adding that assembly rules are being bulldozed and members are not allowed to move their motions.

“Today, I submitted an adjournment [motion] on [the] government’s decision to hand over Bin Qasim Park to Bahria Town but you bluntly rejected [it] in your chamber,” he said. “The park has been handed over to the builder for commercial purposes, violating the local government law, but we are not allowed to discuss this issue on the floor of [the] assembly.”

Speaker Durrani said the adjournment motion was rejected because it was not moved in accordance with the rules.

After the speaker’s remarks, MQM lawmakers rose from their seats and protested against the decision. Faisal Subzwari, who is the deputy parliamentary leader of the party, said they would not allow anyone to ruin Karachi further. “We are not living in a monarchy and such decisions will not be tolerated,” he said, adding that the notification of the park was issued late night and the city mayor had no idea about it.

Subzwari said that the MQM would not allow any to impose the ‘law of the jungle’ for vested interests. “With this decision, the performance of local government minister has become questionable,” he said, adding that government jobs and precious land is being sold to appease some people.

During his speech, anti-government slogans such as ‘No, no’, ‘Go, go’ and ‘Shame, shame’ echoed in the house.

In the noisy session, Local Government Minister Jam Khan Shoro refuted MQM members’ claims that the park was being given for commercial purpose. “More than 300 parks were occupied by MQM in Karachi where they had built their offices,” he said, adding that the government with the help of law enforcement agencies has demolished these offices and is trying to revive them. “We want to restore these parks in their original condition,” he said.

According to him, Bagh Ibne Qasim was given to Bahria Town just to provide a platform to citizens for recreational activities free of charge. “It is not commercial,” he said. “It is a public park where entry will be free. The government, with the help of NGOs and philanthropists, wants to revive its past glory.”

Shoro said that the mayor has not visited the park even once. “This shows his seriousness and competency,” he said. He added that since the KMC has failed to maintain the park, the provincial government has decided to update it. “This is very unfortunate,” he remarked. “We want to render free of [charge] services but the mayor and MQM lawmakers sitting here are protesting.”

He went on to say that the MQM should also tell people about who owns most of the wedding halls built on amenity plots in Karachi. “Can anyone tell me who has built wedding halls on the land of Safari Park in Karachi?” he said. “Why are you mum on it? We will not succumb to pressure and will revive all the parks in Karachi, including Jahangir Park in Saddar, where work has already been started.”

Earlier, Sabir Qaimkhani of MQM had moved his call attention notice and asked the local government minister about why salaries of Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa) employees in Hyderabad had been stopped for the last six months. “Employees are protesting but no one [pays] heed to their problems,” he said.

Responding to him, Shoro said that MQM’s zonal office was built inside the Wasa office in Hyderabad and a majority of ghost employees appointed during the MQM tenure were getting the salaries and running the affairs of the sanitation agency. “We have only stopped the salaries of ghost employees,” he said, adding the government will retain the jobs of genuine employees and fire the others.

Meanwhile, Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf MPA Khurrum Sher Zaman raised the issue of water crises in Karachi. Responding to him, Shoro acknowledged the water crises and said the government is trying to implement the Supreme Court’s decision on it.

Former minister of information Sharjeel Inam Memon also attended the assembly session.

Malik Riaz speaks of ‘positive intentions’

A day after the Sindh government handed over Karachi’s iconic beachside park, Bagh Ibne Qasim, to Bahria Town for adoption, Bahria Town CEO Malik Riaz clarified that his company would not be taking over the park until all the stakeholders, including Karachi’s mayor, were on board.

Riaz also tweeted the agreement signed between the Sindh government and Bahria Town.

He further clarified that Bahria Town would not be buying the park and funds used for beautification and maintenance of the park would come only from Bahria Town itself. “We have no commercial interests … it is really disappointing that positive intentions are being opposed,” he added.

Developed under the supervision of the then city nazim, Mustafa Kamal, and inaugurated by former military ruler Pervez Musharraf in 2007, the park, spanning over 130 acres, gained massive publicity at the time.

However, despite Rs600 million spent on it, the park has been neglected for quite some time.

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