Editorial : August 2015
Dispossessing the Dispossessed
Dr.Rasheed Hasan Khan
A katchi abadi in sector I-11,Islamabad, that was home to more than ten thousand people, was razed to the ground a few days back. The residents were given just three days’ notice to vacate and no compensation and relocation plans were announced by the administration, though this is a requirement under the law. The action was heavy handed to say the least ,involving armed police and paramilitary as well as heavy earth-moving machinery, this indicates that powerful vested interests are the prime movers in this issue .Currently, the debate is circling around the legality of the dwellings and the right of the residents to be on the land, since it had been allotted to CDA employees as far back as 1990 but was never transferred to them.The episode highlights how the question of affordable housing for the poor has been waylaid as a powerful consortium of interests with politicians, bureaucrats, property developers and the military have taken charge of shaping Pakistan’s cities.
Increasing areas of urban land is being occupied by property developers and speculators, pushing the poor further and further towards the margins. The result is a mushrooming growth of katchi abadis, across Islamabad as well as in the other cities of Pakistan. The master plan for Islamabad — the development and implementation of which lies within the CDA’s mandate — contains very little to cater for the needs of the poor and the dispossesed. The allocation of Capital Development Authority’s resources is also governed by misplaced priorities that favour mega-projects such as roads, flyovers and interchanges over affordable, low-cost housing.
It cannot be denied that clean title of land should be a requirement before people take possession and build dwellings upon it, but it is equally important to note that not catering for low-cost and affordable housing for the poor creates the problem of squatter settlements.The exponential growth of katchi abadis certainly needs to be checked, but not through strong-arm means such as the ones employed in Islamabad on Thursday. It needs to be checked by adhering to a master plan that gives everyone a living space within the urban landscape.