The eateries and embellishments on Burns Road and near Empress Market are no more. Waheed Kababs, Abdullah Shah Ghazi’s Mazaar and Delhi Sweets, which served as the heart and soul of Karachi’s charm, have been claimed victim by the anti-encroachment drive, and if reports are true, there are more casualties to come.

After the Superior Judiciary ordered for encroachments to be cleared at Empress Market, it has ordered authorities to immediately remove encroachments from railway lines and revive the Karachi Circular Railway (KCR). The Pakistan Railways (PR) will begin a “grand operation” from Monday for the removal of encroachments along both tracks of the KCR.

The pictures of the ashes of our favourite eateries on Burns Road and Empress Market are certainly jarring, but it should be remembered that the encroachments are illegal and the government is within its rights to remove them. Building encroachments on public property is against the law and haphazard for the public. Encroachments congest roads, make veering through city streets a nuisance and constitute unfair market practices by blocking legal indoor businesses in the area. This is also not a new initiative by the PTI government- the anti-encroachment drive was planned out a year ago. In the long run, removing encroachments will prove more beneficial than harmful, for the government and the city at least.

However, the anti-encroachment drive has attracted rightful criticism for encroaching into the livelihoods of the hundreds of people who had set up businesses in the encroachments. Such movements are often validly criticised for being elitist and not taking consideration of the poor families whose circumstances do not leave any other choice but to set up or reside in encroachments. If removing these encroachments was absolutely necessary, the authorities should have adopted a tactic that would not leave those residing in them without any livelihood or means of earning. Those who have lived in those encroachments for decades need to be compensated for their loss.

The process for removing the encroachments shouldn’t be random and thoughtless- it should accommodate the many who will now be left without a livelihood or residence. The harshness with which this anti-encroachment drive has occurred is reflective of the lack of consideration in policy decisions for the socio-economic class for whom this encroachment will inflict hardship. Alternatively, to preserve the heritage and culture of certain areas, such as Empress Market, a limited number of vendor permits could be allowed.