By Dr. Sohail Ansari
The largest continuous open green space in Karachi is Gutter Baghicha. It can be called ‘the lungs of the city’. Once developed, the British Government transferred the park free of cost to the Karachi Municipality in 1892. Hence, it is historical, being 128 years old.
The Karachi Handbook of 1913 describes it as an ‘oasis in the desert and a paradise of insects, birds and naturalists’.
Located in SITE Town along the Manghopir Road which is the most densely populated part of Karachi, Gutter Baghicha is a public amenity space; it used to be much bigger – 1048 acres of greenery in the pre-independence Trans-Lyari area of Karachi.
‘Gutter Baghicha’ originated from storm drainage channels of Lyari River known as the Shone Drainage System. Later these channels also took the sewerage water from the adjoining built up areas, which was then treated and used for agricultural purposes to grow cereals, green fodder and vegetables. That is why it is known by this name. It also used to be called the Sewage Farm. The storm water channels built by the British are still being used.
At the time of partition, the Baghicha was referred to as ‘the largest urban forest in Karachi’. Apart from the cultivated area, there were also large tracts of natural vegetation with wildlife. Old inhabitants speak of deer roaming freely and of an abundance of flora and fauna. It was a place of natural beauty, recreation, peace and quiet.
In 1969 map of Karachi, Gutter Baghicha is shown as a ‘Municipal Garden’ spread over an area of 1016 acres. 32 acres of the park had already fallen victim to encroachers. Technically, it is still government land, supposedly for public recreation. Hence, a public property and an amenity plot. However, in subsequent years it faced even further encroachments, illegal structures and the high handed clutches of the land mafia. As a result of corruption and encroachments, several colonies, including Asif Colony, Hasrat Mohani Colony, Zuberi Colony, and Wilayatabad were established on pockets of land from the Baghicha. Consequently it has shrunk to 480 acres and remains under continual threat. Even in 2018, the park was the largest continuous open green space of the city.