Skewed priorities

The CDA budget for this year is one of the largest yet, but the intentions behind it remain unclear

June 19, 2022


he recently revealed budget for the Capital Development Authority (CDA), which stands at Rs 308 billion for a city of 3 million people, shows some encouraging signs. However, it is also concerning in some places.

At a time when the entire country is facing a financial crisis, conventional wisdom says that resources should be pooled to pull everyone together. What exactly generated this large sum of money, and what will the CDA spend it on?

Websites of marketing companies for housing societies have been trumpeting that this surplus budget is unparalleled in the history of the CDA. Wary of criticism that the civic body sells plots to generate funds, the CDA public relations department announced to the media that this is the “first ever budget that will not be based on auction receipts.”

In 2020 and 2021, the CDA sold commercial plots worth billions. The PM at the time, Imran Khan, publicly praised it for this achievement, with no actual regard for what the city needs.

According to Islamabad’s outgoing deputy commissioner Muhammad Hamza Shafqat, the city is amongst the five fastest growing in the world. Compared to 2005, the city population has grown three times. However, the administrative infrastructure has not been enhanced proportionately.

Due to the growing population, housing is the most pressing need of the city. The city was meant to have a master plan that took care of its needs. It was drafted nearly 60 years ago, when Gen Ayub Khan designated Islamabad as the federal capital.

Huge chunks of land, mostly arid, were procured from a group of villages on Margalla Hills and divided into residential sectors. The plan needed to be revisited every 20 years. But the civic body failed to develop the residential sectors marked out in its master plan.

As a result, residents of the city were at the mercy of a construction mafia. With a strong monopoly and no competition, developers produced some housing clusters. Middle income families in the city are unable to build a house even after saving for their entire lives. Rental prices are also extremely high.

At a time when the entire country is facing a financial crisis, conventional wisdom says that resources should be pooled to pull everyone together. Furthermore, what exactly generated this large sum of money, and what will the CDA spend it on?

Over the next budget period, Park Enclave IV is the CDA’s latest mega project. It is sometimes called the Overseas Enclave Project due to its appeal for overseas Pakistanis. ‘Enclave’ is a clearly exclusionist term. The area will likely have large housing plots available at very high prices, which average citizens of the capital will never be able to afford. It is an attraction for overseas Pakistanis. A majority of first-generation residents of Islamabad are already overseas Pakistanis. For their properties in Sectors F and parts of Sector G they demand dollar denominated rents.

When the Park Enclave series began, private builders launched their own housing projects with similar names. The CDA series was stalled for years and in those years, private builders built their housing societies and outsold the CDA.

Park Road was meant originally to be an area for generating vegetables and fruits for the city. It has now become a commercial attraction. The erstwhile vegetable farms have morphed into big plazas and marriage halls.

After housing, clean drinking water and air are the basic needs of residents of the city. In an ideal situation, the city is not supposed to have provision issues for drinking water. It has several freshwater streams including Soan and Korang Rivers and rainwater courses.

Before the real estate bonanza in 2002, people used to catch fish from freshwater streams in Sector G and elsewhere. Today these streams have either been turned into poisoned ponds or have been constructed over.

Housing societies have been built on the banks of River Soan and land grabbers have stationed armed guards along Japan Road, the badland of the federal capital, where writ of the state is thinning out.

The CDA has set out funds to bring water to Islamabad from dams in the KP and the Punjab but it would probably be better to use those funds to reclaim the city’s own water courses and rivers.

The civic body has relieved itself of its duty to look after Margalla Hills after the formation of the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB). The board was the focus of international attention for a while and there was no shortage of funds for climate action. Its members demanded the closure of the city’s only zoo to stop cruelty to captive animals but hundreds of birds and animals were killed in the process of their relocation.

Islamabad has witnessed more wildfires on these hills this year than ever before. Climate Change Minister Sherry Rehman said last week that steps are needed to protect the greenery of the city. Instead of more housing projects for the rich, the CDA may do better to allocate funds for the protection of Margalla Hills.

The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad.Twitter: HassanShehzadZ Email: