Fast paced development without provision for civic services and violation of building control laws

Aug 31 - Sep 06, 1996

With the massive movement of people from rural areas to urban centers, the cities face two problems: shortage of housing units resulting in upward movement of prices of real estate and rents and development of katchi abadies. Since the governments encourage katchi abadies by giving the occupants the right of ownership, the business of professional land-grabbers throughout the country in general, and in Karachi in particular, has been flourishing all along.

According to reports, there was a shortage of over 7 million housing units in the urban areas. Keeping in view the population growth rate touching 3% per annum the urban population is expected to rise to 82 million by the year 2010. The gap between demand and supply of new housing to cater for the annual household formation is also expanding.

In Pakistan current housing stock is 19.54 million units occupied by 128 million people. Out of this 6.55 million houses are in the urban areas. The urban share of population had increased from 28% in 1981 to over 34% in 1995 at the rate of 4.3% per annum. This increase had caused overcrowding and exerted tremendous pressure on civic services.

The population of Karachi alone has shot up from 0.25 million in 1947 to nearly 13 million and is growing faster as compared to any other city. Its growth rate is around 6% - one of the highest in the world. The rapid growth in population and acute shortage of housing units has made housing and construction the biggest and most thriving business. In spite of the law and order situation in the city the business is booming.


While the buildings are being constructed in new schemes, the high- rise buildings are constructed in the old areas. Gulistan-e-Jauhar is an area where construction activities are at the peak but the area lacks basic civic services - water being the basic necessity, is not supplied by KDA, roads and street lights are missing and electrical break-downs are long and frequent. Transport services are negligible.

Gulistan-e-Jauhar is not a unique locality. Even some of the posh areas close to the residence of prime minister, Bilawal House, have hardly received drinking water from KDA and are surviving on the water supplied by the 'tanker mafia'. Potable water is not the only problem for the residents of the mega-city but over flowing gutters and choked sewerage lines are not only a source of pollution but serious health hazards too.

While poor transport facilities force the people to live in the main city, construction of high-rise buildings has led to two serious problems: additional pressure on water, sewerage lines and electricity distribution network and gross violation of building control laws. The increasing cost of land does not allow the builders to follow the laws. But on top of everything, the indifferent attitude of regulators and corruption prevailing in these offices regularizes each violation by imposing a nominal penalty. This provides everyone an opportunity to violate law and get it regularized through gratification.


Leaving everything aside, the construction industry faces two major problems: increasing cost of building materials and shortage of housing finance companies. If one books an apartment or a shop it takes a minimum of 3 to 5 years to get the possession and in the meantime one is forced to pay a much higher cost compared to what was indicated at the time of booking. The builders do not accept the allegation as they believe any increase in cost of building materials has to be borne by the person who has booked a unit.

However, the people have a different point of view. They say that the builders announce one project after another and are never able to give the possession at the agreed time. The builders accept the delays but hold the people responsible for this. Their complaint is that people hardly make payments as per schedule given to them at the time of booking - as the collections are delayed so is the construction work which also results in price increase.

According to experts, one of the reasons for this delay is the financial weakness of the builders. In Pakistan, incidentally, the same company is the promoter, booking agent and builder. All those activities need different acumen and expertise. Although the concept of sub-contractors has emerged over the years but the industry needs induction of billions of rupees to overcome the problems faced currently - only a few public limited companies with modest paid-up capital are involved in construction. However, their main areas of activities are other than construction of housing units - they are involved in construction of bridges and factory premises.

Although, in the presence of an emerging jungle of katchi abadies, there is a need for low-cost housing projects, the concept has not got popular. Firstly, the most expensive part is the land and secondly the construction technology. The dearth of land resulting is high price of plots has pushed up their prices in the outskirts. The government has recently announced a scheme in Hawkesbay area for the poor people but within no time the prices of plots have increased manifold - having gone outside the reach of a common man - therefore, there is no end to the development of katchi abadis.


As regards the building control law, the existing regulations of Karachi Building Control Authority were framed in 1963 and updated last in 1979. As the price of land, building materials and labour charges have increased manifold, the builders violate rules and regulations. Excess utilization of plot space is considered a minor offense. The same goes for ncroachment of space not owned by the unit's owner in the shape of balconies and verandahs, even complete rooms projecting beyond plot boundaries into roads.

Scarcity of land is a reason for vertical expansion but unchecked and adjoining buildings are serious threats in case of an emergency or natural calamity like an earthquake. However, the gross violation in the shape of additional floors is a common irregularity. The maximum permissible light in an area often results in springing up of residential units that resemble pigeon-holes more than houses fit for living of human beings.

The government seems to be on the horn of a dilemma in respect of implementing the recommendations of the joint KBCA-ABAD study on the question of highrises and provision of infrastructure in the city particularly alongside Shahrah-e-Faisal. The joint study has suggested to undertake, as a test case, provision of these facilities.

The joint team took into account the revenue generation and the cost of infrastructure on the basis of present allowable plot ratio of 1:4 and the outcome if plot ratio 1:8 was allowed.

Defining the plot ratio, the report said it was the covered area of the structure on a particular plot. For example, plot ratio 1:4 means covered area of the structure would be four times the area of the plot. If a minimum open space of 50 per cent is restricted, it would be a ground plus seven story building. Similarly, for plot ratio 1:8 the covered area would be eight times of the plot.

While the study presented no problem in the development of new water supply scheme by the KWSB on the construction of highrises even if the plot ratio 1:8 was allowed, KWSB stated that the cost would be four times higher for horizontal development compared to vertical development in respect of water supply projects.

However, one should never forget that while the highrises are being built they are without parking facilities. Parking on road and side- lanes results in traffic jams. Even if the builders keep basements as parking lots, the space is not sufficient or gradually encroached by building godowns, etc. This practice has become a serious hazard on I. I. Chundrigar Road, Saddar and in old town.

Taking advantage of outdated laws and using discretionary powers, demolition at a few sites was carried out. Although the chief minister of Sindh has said, "the law does not provide for compounding of the offences committed by the builders, the government can find some 'way out'." It was a good example of punishing one and rewarding the other offender under the same law.

Interestingly it is almost impossible for the builders to construct any illegal structure without the help of regulators. Hundreds of buildings constructed in Karachi in violation of statutory provisions are living examples. The situation becomes even more alarming when the attorneys representing the regulators indulge in gross negligence and the courts also give verdict against the state due to improper representation or not providing the fact.

However, no new construction activity should be allowed without properly sanctioned corresponding increase in utility services. It also needs complete revamping of building control laws. However, in the interim period the existing laws should be enforced. One may say that cancelling the licences of the builders violating the law or closing down the sites may be too drastic an action but demolition of the illegally constructed areas is realistic. A violation is a violation, howsoever minor in nature. If any respect of the laws is to be inculcated among the builders, the rules will have to be implemented strictly.