They would blow ‘natives’ out of cannons at Saddar’s Empress Market, I learnt in literature class from teacher Faiza Kazi at St Joseph’s Convent High School when I was a student in the 1980s. Once, in Empress Market’s white tile meat section, my father decided to demonstrate how biology worked. He unhooked a pair of goat lungs with the windpipe still attached and blew hard into it to inflate them—much to the horror of the butcher. 

“People go to Hyperstar now, but the poor can’t go there with their dirty chappals,” says Yezdi Burjor Sethna, who runs the famous BD Sethna grocery store inside Empress Market. “Empress Market is a place where all sorts of people can come.”  

And so, when the government decided to rip out all the shops around Empress Market in the first week of November to make way for a pedestrian zone, I thought of what Yezdi had said. Who was this all for? What was going on?

This iconic photo was taken by none other than Arif Mahmood who heads White Star.
This iconic photo was taken by none other than Arif Mahmood who heads White Star. © Arif Mahmood - It is from his personal portfolio and he posted it on his Instagram account @arifmahmoodphoto on Nov 14.

The diagnostic report led the Bank (through 2016 and 2017) to develop a concept for a Karachi Neighbourhood Improvement Plan or KNIP. It talks about spending $100m “to improve livability and inclusiveness in selected areas in Karachi City”. The Sindh government would put in $12m and would take a loan of $86m from the International Development Association for 25 years. 

In one of the Bank’s appraisal documents, which lays out the reasoning for the KNIP, it says on page 11 of 53 that “the proposed project serves as a strategic entry point  for reengagement by the Bank and a building block for a long‐term partnership in Karachi. First, the project aims to demonstrate the importance and validity of an inclusive process for neighborhood improvements, by financing highly visible but low‐cost public space enhancements through a collaborative process”. 

It supported a “quick wins” operation with a “fast preparation timeline and high‐visibility interventions to strengthen confidence”. The plan was to spend $42m on ‘Saddar Downtown Area Revitalization’. Other parts of KNIP involve Malir and Korangi. 

The document says that it anticipates that “involuntary resettlement” will be involved. “Because these works are likely to affect the livelihoods of several people—owners of roadside shops, mobile vendors, and sellers in temporary markets—OP 4.12, Involuntary Resettlement, has been triggered.”