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News Line
KGS Plans To Develop Park on Amenity Plot With Restricted Entry
KARACHI: The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation has given away a highly costly plot reserved for a park to the Karachi Grammar School for a long tenure under its “adopt a park” scheme, raising fears among social activists the school may restrict the public’s free access to this amenity space after developing it.

The plot, measuring roughly 26,307 square yards, located in block-5 of the Clifton area along Khayaban-i-Saadi near Boating Basin is sandwiched between two campuses of the KGS.

Neither the KMC, which left the 5.4 acre amenity plot abandoned for decades and failed to develop it into a park, nor the KGS is willing to disclose details of the agreement under which the land had been handed over to the school although both confirmed the possession of the land had already changed hands a few months ago.

Sources said the KGS intended to develop the plot into a park-cum-play sports area at a cost ranging between Rs50 million and Rs150 million for the children of other schools in the vicinity but the school did not know exactly how many schools existed in the area. Situated at a prime location in an upscale area, the plot attracted attention of many organisations which made attempts to acquire it. The last such attempt was made by the United States which wanted to relocate its consulate general there a few years ago but the attempt was successfully resisted by the area residents, civil society as well as the KGS, which had now obtained it for itself.

The KMC spokesperson said the amenity plot had been handed over to the school under the KMC’s adopt a park scheme. The tenure under the scheme was usually three to five years with free public access to the facility but he could not give details of it without the actual document before him, which he failed to locate despite his best efforts for three days, he said.

But if any organisation violated the conditions of the agreement the KMC had a right to cancel it any time, he said.

KGS principal Colin Wrigley told Dawn that primarily the KGS had enough play space for its students so it was not desperate to get this land. The KGS was not a land grabber but in fact it had been an active part of a campaign launched to protect it from various interest groups that wanted to grab it, he said.

He said the KGS, in its efforts to serve community, had obtained the plot to develop it into a play area for the children of other schools in the vicinity.

To a question about number of the schools in the area, he said that he was not sure about the exact number but there would be many, more than 20 or even 25.

He said the KGS had written to around 10 schools about the use of the proposed play area but only three had responded. Since the plot was adjacent to the KGS so naturally its students would also be using it and because of security reasons the general public would not be allowed when schoolchildren, many of them girls, would be playing, he said.

He said the KGS planned to develop a walking, jogging track that could be open to the general public in the evenings or when the plot was not in the use of schoolchildren.

He, however, did not offer any comment when he was asked if restricting the public’s free access to an amenity area all the time was not against the law. The KGS would seek legal opinion as well as initiate a dialogue with civil society before taking any step further, he added.

Mr Wrigley said that since the amount required for development of the park was huge which might be difficult to generate and if there was a hue and cry by the community or civil society against the KGS developing it as planned or if something with the proposal was against the law, then the school would prefer to return it rather than commit an illegal act.

The KGS was not desperate to obtain the plot in the first place and just intended to develop it as a service to community and for the children of other schools, he said.

He evaded when asked about details of the tenure of agreement and said it was not for a short term of three or five years, it was for a long term. He however did not specify the number of years for which the park had been given to the KGS.

Mr Wrigley had earlier agreed to share details of the agreement while talking to Dawn over the phone but refused to do so when the reporter visited him. According to him, the KGS board of governors had asked him not to do that and instead ask the reporter to get a copy of the agreement from the KMC under the Freedom of Information Act.

Meanwhile, Shehri, an NGO which works for civic issues, in a communication to the KGS board of governors chairperson Sima Kamil, said the school’s recent acquisition of the plot ST 21 and its development in such a manner would on the one hand violate the law and on the other it would run counter to the principles the school stood for and undermine its reputation for which it had come to be recognised in society.

It said the school’s initiative to develop the amenity plot into a park in a manner as intended under the law was good but restriction of its use by ordinary citizens would negatively affect the school’s rich legacy, weaken its stature to oppose future environment and social degradation in its neighbourhood and risk its exposure to public interest litigation.

Shehri said that it had written to the KMC to obtain a copy of the agreement under the Freedom of Information Act but it had not received any response yet. It registered a complaint with the Sindh Ombudsman against the KMC on the issue but the ombudsman too failed to make the KMC issue a copy of the agreement, it said.
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