Naureen Aqueel

Truck off: Residents fear oil tanker relocation verdict has changed ‘nothing’

Posted on: September 21, 2010

Published in The Express Tribune – city, September 21, 2010.

By Mobin Nasir, Naureen Aqueel and Mustafa Nemat Ali.

The presence of hundreds of oil tankers in Karachi’s Clifton neighbourhood drew a Supreme Court judgment ordering them to relocate. But the ordeal has continued for residents who fear that the tankers will never move.

“I don’t have to open a window in the morning to realise that there are hundreds of oil tankers parked right outside my apartment,” said Bilal. “I wake up to the sound of metal hitting metal because they are building and repairing them, every day”. Bilal, not his real name, is a resident of Karachi’s Clifton Block 1.

The locale surrounding the president’s residence in Karachi has been turned into a parking lot for hundreds of oil tankers. Residents lamented that despite a Supreme Court ruling to have the oil tankers removed within two months, they remain an ominous presence at their doorsteps. Bilal accused truckers of freeloading at the expense of residents by stealing electricity as well.

KESC’s Public Relations Officer Amir Abbasi confirmed that electricity theft was prevalent in Clifton Blocks 1 and 2.

Bilal doubts that the oil tankers would be shifted out of his neighbourhood. “I even registered a complaint with the police. I sent a copy to [a newspaper] but they did not print it. Even after the chief justice has taken suo motu notice of this issue, it is still the same.”

Residents asserted that besides being an eye sore, the presence of hundreds of truck drivers had caused crime rates in the area to shoot up. “They have broken all the street lights so they can sleep peacefully on top of their tankers. There have been instances where delivery boys have been mugged,” complained one angry resident.

Some residents are so fed up they cannot wait to move out. However, this is no longer a financially viable option as property prices in the neighborhood have plummeted. A local real estate agent, Yasir Hayat, confirmed that prices were affected by up to Rs1 million due to the influx of tankers.

From the roof of his building, Bilal pointed to the workshops operating on the service lane of the road between the apartments and the sea. “Women cannot even go outside because there are so many men lying on the sidewalk,” he said.

Late at night, Zaman Khan, Ilyas and other truck drivers were sitting outside Bilal’s apartment building listening to songs playing at Bilal’s dinner party. They seemed relaxed and well settled as they traded jokes and offered their version of the story.

“It takes 10 to 12 days to reach Afghanistan from here and back,” explained Zaman Khan. “Waiting at the oil terminal in Karachi is the best part of the drive.”

Ilyas, another truck driver, broke down the numbers. “It would cost 8,000 rupees just to come and go between the oil terminal and Port Qasim,” he said, concluding between sips of kahwa tea: “I wouldn’t go there.” Zaman Khan and the other truckers nodded in agreement.

While the residents of Clifton fear the tankers will never leave, there are others who are counting on their prolonged presence. A group of welders was too busy making a tank and carriage to indulge in a conversation about the relocation of the self-claimed parking space. There are at least three body makers operating in the area, all without shops.

Zaman Khan clarified that there were mechanics, painters, electricians and puncture repairers working off these roads. He claimed that truckers could even find lodging at Rs1,000 per week, including breakfast. “Everyone pays the police, which is how we are all still here,” he explained.

An official at Karachi Port Trust (KPT), speaking on condition of anonymity, contended, “Their (tanker owners) representatives were present when the judgment was announced. The KPT is fulfilling its commitment”. He explained that the KPT is spending about Rs30 million to build a parking lot for oil tankers. The project is expected to be completed within a year’s time. When asked how the KPT would deal with hundreds of tankers parked on roads and streets leading to the oil terminal, the official vindicated his organisation by saying “only those tankers waiting to load will be allowed inside the port’s parking facilities”.

There is one thing that the residents of Clifton and the truck drivers have in common: They are all sceptical the planned relocation for the oil tankers will work.

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