Interview: Muhammad Hussain Khan, Sindh Minster Local Government, Spatial Development and Katchi Abadies

Nov 12 - 18, 2007

Political and religious pressures put a biggest obstruction for government in removing un-notified Katchi Abadies. These Katchi Abadies (aka. shanty towns) often set up in an unplanned manner by people who can not afford to have housing facilities other wise. The desultory settlements not only incur government a major financial lose but they also hinder development works. Sindh government is in the process of leasing notified Katchi Abadies, which were erected till 1985. Alternatively, it offers residential facilities to its settlers. Government of Sindh has a consolidated plan in hand to build three lakh fifty thousand flats around different areas to abridge the gap of demand and supply of houses in the province. These flats will be available on low price and affordable by low income group. But, often residents of shanty towns, backed and instigated by some political or religious cohorts, create anarchic demonstrations, compelling government to step back. Few influential but powerful hands distort government legal act into anti-communalism. Impressionable are the people who get influenced by the propaganda machine.

Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority has started a project by the name of "Sasti Basti" (low-price settlement) to dissuade people from setting up their houses on to empty lands. Government of Sindh has a policy in pipeline to provide housing facilities to every home-less person against a very nominal price rate. It directed all its officials on district and town levels to expedite their progress in identifying adequate lands for building houses. If the pace of development continues unabatedly, people would not opt to possess lands illegally for residing purposes any more, stated by Muhammad Hussain Khan, Minister of Sindh for Local Government, Katchi Abadies and Spatial Development in an interview with Pakistan & Gulf Economist. He said it is obvious that people impel to go for living in and around filth due to not having any other option. The ports city has enormous economic opportunities attracting all and a sundry across the nation. The land grabbers find such people to sell them out misappropriated lands and properties. Their influence in and links with political and religious quarters deter government taking action against illegal settlements.

Authority of Sindh Katchi Abadies is responsible to lease only notified-till-1985 Katchi Abadies. Besides, it is to accomplish development works in those settlements. But the fact is that after 1985, numerous these kinds of settlements have set up with support of "qabza group" (land grabbers). In a response to government action those land grabbers with some political or religious parties support lodged protests through demonstration and agitation.

Talking of his resolution to problems, Minster said, to curb such shanty towns settling up further, Government of Sindh has come up with a negotiable framework to start housing schemes. Every one can not afford to buy house by paying hefty price. Neither, we can leave people dependable only on builders. Therefore, providing homeless an alternative quality abode may prevent illegal grabbing of government or private owned lands. He understands that lack of housing facility stimulates illegitimate encroachment of lands; which have been the case since long. Therefore, Ministry of Katchi Abadies has revived few defunct authorities such as Malir Development Authority, Lyari Development Authority, Sewan Development Authority, and Larkana Development Authority. Revival of Hyderabad Development Authority is on the anvil. Through revival of these defunct authorities has not only retrenched-employees reinstated but it also lessened additional work loads and responsibilities of the Government departments.

Muhammad Hussain informed thousands of acres of lands were allotted to these development authorities. Government plans to start housing schemes onto such lands. So that, lower income segment of society and farmers can afford to purchase houses and those who can not bear to buy costly accommodation facility, banglow or flat. In fact, many housing development authorities, which were not operating, have been brought into operation to provide low price houses to people.

Sindh Minster got his primary and secondary educations from Mirpurkhas. Then, he completed his Bachelor of Commerce (Honours) from University of Jamshoro, Sindh. Initially, he associated with All Pakistan Mohajir Student Organization (APMSO) in 1983. Ever since, he continued his political loyalty with MQM. In his journey with the party, he moved along with various political charges from unit in charge up to Rabita Committee member. So, in a sense he raised to his current insignia from a very bottom level. It is the motto of his party, he said, to bring upfront people from within people to serve people. In the by-election of 1992, first time he became the parliamentary member on the electoral constituency of PS-94. In general election of 2002, he contested from suburban areas of Karachi such as Mangho Pir, Gaddap, and Surjani Town. To say, aggregately he devoted his 15 years in provincial parliamentarian politics. He has the honour of being members of financial standing committee and others provincial committees. Mr. Hussain has twice been provincial minister for local bodies in 2003 and 2006. He was also known as the youngest legislator when elected in 1992.

In his entire 24 year association with MQM including 15 years as a legislature, he said that he was quite shocked observing the attitudes of elected parliamentarians; the aristocratic propensity to run government affairs and dealing with people were far a pole to his political upbringings. "My political affiliation has never allowed me to adapt to autocratic culture," he commented. MQM, since its inception, has a clear stand against such system of governance and egotistic culture because of its root in the middle class segment of society. The political training imbibed in him passion to serve human under any circumstances. With these lessons in mind, when he entered into parliament, there majority was formed by autocratic-infested mentalities. Inconsiderate of the fact that they are people representatives and elected on to redress public problems, they mainly worked to maintain their careers in their entire tenure in assembly. This realized me that one of the causes of Pakistan's backwardness lays in this attitude. Whichever political party, they emerged out, had no history in resolving public issues at grass root level. Minister lamented Pakistan's growth lag behind China, India, and Bangladesh, which acquired their independence equally more or less in same years, because of prevalent draconian values. He explained MQM has always the manifesto to resolve public problems whenever find chance to hold command of governing machinery. It canvasses votes from middle and lower classes in order to get them out of clutches of social and political injustices. Even, it nominates representatives among such classes so that members-elect could have core concerns over public issues; could favour or disfavour government policy making process; and raise condemnation against any arbitrary practices. We've been struggling to bring sigh of relief for middle and lower classes and to make them socially and economically empowered since our inception. Also our aim is to elevate their social status.

To illustrate, the province of Sindh has 23 districts, 119 Town Administration Authority, and more than 1000 union councils. Minster of Sindh said Local Government Commission keeps check and balance over, monitors, investigates, and collects inquiries of administrative and financial corruption being taken place in district and town governing procedures. Moreover, accounting and auditing procedures are also performed to rectify any monetary anomalies. Housing Planning and Development department operates to conduct research on growing demand of houses and cooperate with development authorities to upgrade and prepare updated survey reports. Similarly, Public Health Engineering department works for building and rectifying water and drainage system across urban and interior localities of the province. Mr. Hussain told Spatial Ministry has delegated 'Established Planning Cell" an exclusive responsibility to prepare situational analyses of demands and supplies of houses. He reiterated his motive to provide housing facilities to every homeless person.

On growth of real estates sector, Minster said, the developments taking place under the regime of present government are clearly a reason to rising local and foreign interests into real estates sector. Last five year political certainty and subsequent economic boom attracted heavy investment in this sector. Furthermore, income of people has increased. Government also gave a boost to construction industry. Because, directly or indirectly this industry generates a source of income for the people. To focus on development of this sector implies a snow ball reaction to every manufacturing or service-based industry, he said. Previously, labours linked with construction industry were easily available, while it is difficult to find a carpenter nowadays.

When enquired, "Is there a regulatory or monitory authority to regularize recent price hike in real estates?" He replied no regulatory body operates in an open market mechanism. The recent price hike in real estates is the result of pouring in of foreign and domestic investments in different industries. People possess a significant amount to invest in real estates. Indeed, price of property goes up because of inflow of investments. In his prompt retort to scribe's apprehension, "It seems that there are shortage of genuine buyers in the market." Of course not, there both genuine buyers and investors exist in the market, otherwise people can not wait to invest in property for ten and fifteen years for good returns, he replied. Substantiating, he said, people have a ready cash to purchase high price flats and plots in Surjani Town, Gulshan-e-Mymar, so on and so forth. Property prices of these areas have also increased and people are buying. It shows that income of middle class has risen. Let alone central city, far flung suburban residential areas attract population shift. Even, price rates of property of Gulshan-e-Mymar somehow equal DHA's. However, new housing schemes under the patronage of government would discourage such investors who hold properties for long term benefits and cause unnecessary price hike.

About waterfront projects, he told, the consultants have already been hired to establish a remarkable water front real estates project at Hawkesbay. These projects would be built according to international standards. And in few months the balloting of plots would be started, he added.

When enquired, "Does criss-cross flow of commands such as TMA, while co-operating with city administration, report to provincial government create conflict of command?" He said in his provincial government there is no conflict of command. Devolution system would make it easy to manage city administrative affairs without hindering provincial authority. But, equally there is a need to implement the system at all level.

Local people should be recruited in police force so that public complaints can be removed away. Actually, these people understand norms, attitudes, and values of people and can deal them accordingly. In other province, police personnel comprise of local population. Developed countries have the identical system of governance. There traffic situation is far better than what is in here. Minster explained local people are more associated with their land so are their interest. For example, those who violate traffic rules, have to abide by them outside their homeland. Internationally governance of system is run by local populace. Other people may lend their support to run the system.

Under trained and computer illiterate work force obstructs working procedure to look after the development works of the province. This does not permit the government to take assistance from technological developments for improving local bodies and spatial developments. Prior to update them with technical skills, their social ethos should first and foremost be rectified so that they could emerge as a good and responsible citizen. In this regard, government conducts workshops at union council's level to educate administration about polite public dealing ways and problem solving techniques. Minster said his ministry plans to restrict all districts and towns to allocate two lakh and one lakh respectively for conducting capacity building workshops.

In his concluding remarks he appealed to office bearers of provincial, district, and town authorities to utilize their financial resources for the benefits of people and in resolving their problems instead of spending on personal well being and office decoration. They should comprehend that elected to office don't end their interactions with and accruing responsibilities toward electorates. Rather, it is a starting point to serve people.