The Federal government’s move to take control of two of Sindh’s islands has been the target of harsh criticism from all Sindhi stakeholders: local advocacy groups, Sindhi nationalist groups, Civil society and the PPP-led Sindh government.

Various political and civil society organisations in different cities of Sindh took out protest rallies, rejecting the federal government’s decision to develop two small islands off the coast of Karachi into cities. The protesters expressed concern over the development of the islands disregarding environmental laws and regulations against harming marine life that would damage mangroves in Sindh. The protesters said any harm to the marine life and mangroves would damage the livelihood prospects of hundreds of thousands of fishermen in Sindh. Furthermore, it is highly unjust to deny the local fishermen access to these islands after their development.

The Federal government established the Pakistan Islands’ Development Authority (PIDA) to take control of the islands. This formation of the institution and the annexation of the two islands were not done through parliament, but through the special Presidential powers of Ordinance. Since the beginning of the PTI government, law and bill have not been presented in the parliament to be debated and critiqued by all parties and provincial stakeholder but rather created in closed doors of the presidency. President Alvi on August 31 promulgated The Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance, 2020, which was notified the following day. The Bundal and Buddo Islands are mentioned as “specified areas” in the first schedule of the ordinance. Just two weeks later, Mr Alvi discussed the fate of Bundal Island development with real estate tycoons and businessmen, including Malik Riaz, Aqeel Karim Dedhi and Arif Habib.

PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted that his party would oppose the federal government’s move in the Sindh Assembly as well as in the parliament. Terming the step “illegal annexation of Sindh’s islands through presidential ordinance by the PTI government”, he tweeted: “I ask how is this act any different to Modi’s actions in occupied Kashmir?” Similarly, former chairman of the Senate and PPP leader Raza Rabbani termed the ordinance a “crude attempt to bring under the control of the federal government the coastal areas of the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan”. He was of the opinion that the ordinance was another attempt to roll back the 18th Amendment and deprive the provinces of their lawful lands. He said the ordinance was not only in violation of the Constitution but also of the judgements of the superior courts. Protesters all around Sindh expressed the view that the PIDA was against provincial autonomy and unconstitutional. The protestors including PPP Taluka President Naseerabad Engineer Khan Muhammed Phulpoto, social activist Akhtiar Hussain Khaskheli and others said the federal government had no authority to launch any development project in the coastal areas up to 12 nautical miles as it is the domain of the provincial government. They said the federal government should have held consultations with Sindh before taking any decision regarding the development of the islands. They said the Sindh government should stop any such intrusion in provincial autonomy, as in line with the Constitution these islands belonged to the provincial government. They said that the federal government had gone ahead with the plan to establish the PIDA without discussing the issue in the Council of Common Interests. They said that any attempt of the federal government to occupy the islands would be resisted.

The author works as a sub-editor at The Correspondent, focusing on Student Politics, Social issues and International Relations.

The author works as a sub-editor at The Correspondent, focusing on Student Politics, Social issues and International Relations.

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