Land grabbers auctioneering lands

Nov 12 - 18, 2007

Land encroachment is an act of illegal possession of land for residential or business purposes. Usually, it happens when people occupy lands of government and claim their ownership rights over them. In case of private property, the ratio of illegal possession is low, however, it occurs. The urban development plans get a hard billow from garbing activities of "qabza group" (land mafia). These land grabbers sale out the occupied lands to needy mere against few thousand rupees. Government inability to control encroachment acts attribute to lack of resources to trace such happenings. It might be a reason! But, it is evident in a common sight around the Karachi city that people are extending their property over a land, without any hindrance or with connivance of government officials. Additionally, public amenities are subject to be siphoned off, owing to these unchecked developments. The following article intends to draw attention of government towards present situation, which any time can be turned into a socio-economic catastrophe.

Following structural adjustments in developing countries, a boom of population shift was witnessed. Urbanization is taking place rapidly in a historical pace. In Pakistan, the case was no exceptional. The nation has three major cities where impact of policy changes appears conspicuously; these are Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. Among them, in terms of economic development Karachi is considered as a hotbed. Therefore, the migration of population is comparatively high in the city. The people living in less developed localities are naturally attracted to these economic turnarounds. In order to seek better job opportunities and quality livelihoods, they tend to immigrate in not only from interior Sindh but from across the border and neighboring counties. The price of a house is out of their buying power limit. This induces them to settle in the canopy shelters onto empty lands, which are in abundance around the city. Most of the time, they manage to live in by purchasing a piece of land from "qabza group".

Land Mafia: Where they come where they go no one knows. Even knowledge does not make any difference as "they" are omnipotent enough to stave off any government action against them. It is said that in absence of assistance from government's officials, no one dares to misappropriate lands for setting up of Katchi Abadies (shanty town). According to official statistics, there are 1293 such settlements in all over Sindh. Out of which 932 have been notified. That implies allocation of Rs. 47.5 million development budgets for them after leasing that has already been issued to 720 settlements. Noteworthy is the beginning of low price housing schemes as alternative option for low level income group. In spite of this, illegal occupation of land continues unabatedly. Even though, these settlements give an awkward look and show unplanned approach, the methods land grabbers often adopt to possess a land are planned cunningly. Such as, they initially set up a mosque or a mazar (tomb to honor spiritual leader) then gradually they start expanding its vicinity. And one day, the space has extended inasmuch to erect canopy shelters to abode, shaped in concrete structured houses finally.

The growth of real estates sector has mad people greedy. They are seeking ways to multiply their properties. Do pay an observing trip around the city and you would surely advocate this opinion. Despite living in a proper house, people are found extending their verandas, balconies, and terraces. This seems an attempt to stratify their appetite for property-a piece of land.

Igniting an already worsening situation, roadside shop keepers engage in displaying their goods for sale at pathways, causing nuisance for pedestrians as well as in moving smooth flow of traffic. Previously, people were happy fetching vegetables and fruits from the market. Now, the market scene has been created near everywhere. The police charge street vendors a monthly or weekly "bhatta" (bribe). Often terrace extends to a level to touch passing electric wires. This increases numbers of human casualties. Government has established anti-encroachment committee and demolishing squad to tackle unauthorized property extension. But, in reality nothing effective outcomes surface on.

Spread well over an area of approximately 3600 Square Kilometers Karachi is the backbone of the national economy and ranked on 21 amongst largest cities of the world and 13th in Asia. Attracting a significant chunk of migrants from upper Sindh and all over provinces of Pakistan, it has a population of more than 15.5 million growing annually at a rate of 6 percent. With road networks of 9944 KM and 1.5 million registered vehicles growing at a gigantic rate of 18% per annum, Karachi has a 45 percent of vehicles in Pakistan.

Along with, the metropolis is going through a revolutionary developmental process. Since, predecessors were lackluster in carrying forward mega projects in the city naturally developments are taking time. The renovation is not adding to public agony as much as encroachments are. Unplanned settlements bottleneck in developmental works. Due to this, drainage lines get blocked; traffic movements disturb; and outlook looks odd.

Despite the enhancement in the technology such as satellite photography/imagery or geographic information system (GIS), there is no annual report/study on the status of land use change, encroachments, densification or infrastructural situations. To collect unscientific reports/surveys, administration is dependent on union councils and towns. It is viewed that devolution of existing KBCA and repeal of SBCO, 1979 may organize the city. Political influences and promotion of community differences are used against government action to remove encroachments.

Iqbal Ahmed Qureshi, District Officer (Estate & Enforcement), while talking to the scribe, said lack of coordination among government departments is a main reason for moving a plan into an effective action. He said before regularization of settlements, sometimes, no formal correspondence is taken up, creating petty disputes among authorities and resulting in court hearings. While two bodies have the authority of regularization: one CDGK and Sindh government, a non objection certificate is mandatory to know property ownership clearance. He said, however, improvement has been noticed to some extent.

DO said, "In some instances, land grabbers occupy lands and demand money from a real owner." Quoting an example, he said when they had started razing a mosque to clear a way for building overhead; an infamous Molvi with fellows lodged a widespread protest. Even he had to escape and refuge in a nearby quarter to save himself from people's wrath. This situation detracts foreigners to invest. He opined unity in command could improve administration affairs.