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The Aladin Park saga — who allowed what and when

Shopkeepers taking out their belongings to evacuate their shops at Aladin Park in compliance of Supreme Court orders. -APP

This is the story of how Karachi’s 52 acres of an amenity plot that were reserved for a park and were part of the city’s famous Safari Park in District East fell prey to massively illegal commercial activities over the years.

The News obtained copies of at least five agreements that allowed commercial activities on the premises of the park over the course of five years, and found out under whose watch those agreements were signed.

The park is currently known as Aladin Amusement Park, which had been housing Aladin Shopping Mall and Pavilion End Club. On June 14, 2021 the Supreme Court declared both of them illegal and ordered their demolition within two days. Then the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) sprang into action and complied.

The Sindh Disposal of Urban Land Ordinance states that no amenity plot is to be converted or used for any other purpose other than what it is intended for. Amenity plots are reserved for parks, gardens, playgrounds, graveyards, hospitals, schools, colleges, libraries, community centres, mosques or other such purposes.

It began in 1995

The saga of Aladin Park started in 1995, when then Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chief minister Syed Abdullah Shah and chief secretary formed a committee to convert 52 acres of Safari Park into an amusement park. Hameed Haroon chaired the committee, and then KMC administrator Fahim Zaman was one of its members.

On May 30 Zaman signed an agreement with Zodiac Joyland, which was granted the 52 acres facing Rashid Minhas Road for 25 years to develop an amusement park on the pattern of Disneyland. The lease was granted on the condition that the land would be used for amenity purposes.

The developer was bound by the agreement to submit a detailed master plan and a detailed design of the proposed amusement park to the KMC within six months.

The agreement stated that 66 per cent of the area would remain an open space, while the remaining 34 per cent could be covered by building structures and machines, within which not more than five per cent could be used for commercial purposes like gift shops and snack bars.

The fifth clause of the agreement clearly restricts the developer from subleasing or assigning the project land or any part of it to anyone else.

Infographic by Faraz Maqbool.

A fresh agreement

Zaman was the administrator until April 4, 1996. On April 9, when PPP was still in power and Anzar Hussain Zaidi was the new KMC administrator, a fresh agreement was signed between the KMC and AA Joyland.

Serious anomalies seem to have appeared in this agreement: not only was subleasing allowed but approval was also granted for food and merchandise outlets, exhibition centre and mini-cinema for 24 and a half years.

The name of the company was also changed from Zodiac Joyland to AA Joyland due to some internal affairs of the company, but Ibrahim Shamsi was still their managing director.

On April 22 a lease deed was signed between the KMC and AA Joyland. The document mentions merchandising outlets, which is explained as the merchandising, franchising and food outlets to be subleased by AA Joyland in the commercial area.

The deed’s Clause 7.4 states that AA Joyland has the right to sublease merchandising outlets to any type of retailer, restaurant or other purveyor of goods or services.

This is apparently where the illegality started. Advocate Zubair Ahmed says the KMC does not have the authority to allow the establishment of clubs and shopping malls on amenity plots, so there can never be any sublease in this regard.

The addenda lease

On March 21, 1998 the KMC and AA Joyland signed an addenda lease, according to which the agreement dated May 30, 1995 stands detached from the lease deed.

At that time the then Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) Farooq Sattar was the local government minister of the province and Waseem Akhtar was the town planning minister.

Sattar told The News that no shops were there in his era. “I tried to reduce all the commercial activities in the park,” he said, adding that the agreement signed in 1996 was flawed and it allowed subleasing shops.

According to the addenda lease signed in 1998, 25 per cent of all the revenue received by the company through the execution of subleasing would be deposited to the KMC, while 10 per cent of all revenue deposits from subleasing would be paid to the KMC.

Clause 9.2 of the addenda lease states that the company agreed that no mela or festival would be held at the amusement park, except festivals at the water park, the Basant festival and the Eid festival during Ramazan.

Talking to a private news channel on June 15, 2021, Zaman shared how he tried to get control of the shopping mall inside Aladin Park in 1999, when Sindh was under governor’s rule during the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz government and he was once again made the KMC administrator, but he could not continue the operation because “the law enforcement agencies were uncooperative”.

The CDGK era

Pakistan was under a military coup until 2001, and the KMC was turned into the City District Government Karachi (CDGK), which filed a suit against the AA Joyland. Jamaat-e-Islami’s Naimatullah Khan was the city’s Nazim (mayor) then.

To amicably settle the issues, another agreement was inked on October 26, 2004. The agreement states that unsold commercial property would be sold by the CDGK’s revenue department in consultation with the company through an open public auction, with 25 per cent of the net sale proceeds to go to the CDGK.

The CDGK exempted the park from entertainment duty, and the benefit of the exemption was to be passed on to the public visiting the park.

Pavilion End Club

After Khan’s tenure came the era of the MQM’s Mustafa Kamal as the KMC mayor. Under his watch the company established Pavilion End Club and marriage halls inside the amusement park, but no action was taken. The News could not reach him for comment despite repeated attempts.

Until 2014, when the PPP was in power in the province and Sharjeel Inam Memon was the LG minister, the company had filed at least two cases against the KMC.

Under Memon’s watch the final sub-addendum was passed on September 9, 2014 to brush aside the cases. The noteworthy point in the sub-addendum is the KMC allowing the establishment of Pavilion End Club on the premises of Aladin Amusement Park and asking the company to pay Rs1.5 million a year as the KMC’s share on account of membership.

As for the banquet facilities, events and social gatherings held at various venues of the club, the company, according to the agreement, is liable to pay Rs1.5 million annually.

Resultantly, marriage ceremonies were being held at the amusement park. However, according to the 1998 addenda lease, which was signed under Sattar’s watch, no such event was allowed at the park.

Memon told The News that the LG minister has nothing to do with agreements at such a micro level. He claimed that the affairs of the city “at such a micro level do not even reach the ministers”.

The problems

When the MQM’s Akhtar was again the city mayor in 2019, wedding and banquet halls were demolished on the orders of the SC. When The News asked why he did not put a stop to commercial activities during his earlier tenure, he explained that his hands were tied due to the earlier agreements and the stay orders issued by courts.

AA Joyland’s Deputy General Manager Amir Shakeel said their lease agreement would end on June 21, 2021. The KMC, on the other hand, insists that the 25-year agreement had ended in 2020 because it had started in 1995. But Shakeel stressed that the agreement had started in 1996, so they had obtained a stay order from the Sindh High Court.

Zaman told The News that the problem is not the subleasing but Aladin Shopping Mall, Pavilion End Club, banquet halls and wedding halls inside the amusement park.

He said that according to the agreement of 1995 and 1996, and the master plan submitted by the company and approved by the KMC, there was no mention of a shopping mall or a private club.

As for the mention of subleasing in five per cent of the commercial area in the agreement of 1996, he said that it was for small eateries, gift shops and merchandising shops that traditionally exist in amusement parks all over the world.

He pointed out that in subsequent years, under the watch of Sattar, Khan and Kamal, the construction of the shopping mall was illegally authorised. By 2014, under the PPP’s tenure when Memon was the LG minister, the club and wedding halls were illegally regularised as well, he concluded.

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