With the passage of the Sindh Katchi Abadis Bill 2022, the Sindh government has taken an appropriate – though some would say still insufficient – step towards granting some relief to...
With the passage of the Sindh Katchi Abadis (Amendment) Bill 2022, the Sindh government has taken an appropriate – though some would say still insufficient – step towards granting some relief to slum dwellers in Sindh. The fact that the Sindh Assembly passed this bill unanimously shows that this is an issue that all political parties attach importance to, at least on paper. Under the law, the provincial administration will grant an extension of over 14 years in the cut-off date for regularization of shanty settlements in the province. Previously 1997 was the cutoff date and no settlement after that year could get approval. With the extension, the new date is 2011. This means that shanty and slum areas with settlements built in 14 years from 1997 to 2011 will also get a regularization order from the Sindh government.
The new amendment will benefit a large number of katchi abadis across the province. The law is insufficient in that it does not give automatic approval but asks the settlement dwellers to move their case for regularization. This may cause undue hassle and obstacles as most people living in katchi abadis are either illiterate or poor – and in most cases both. The Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority (SKAA) must remove all ambiguities in this process to facilitate smooth regularization procedures. The information available on the SKAA website claims that after the authority came into being in 1987, it inventoried nearly 1,500 unauthorized settlements existing entirely or partially on government land before 1987 for declaration as katchi abadis. Then the Sindh government set a cutoff date till 1997 which is now 25 years old. There is a dire need for low-cost housing schemes across the country, especially in big cities such as Karachi, Hyderabad, Sukkur, and in all provincial capitals in the country. These schemes should benefit the lowest socio-economic strata of society that find it hard to find decent accommodation in cities. There are millions of people who flock to big cities every year in search of employment and livelihood opportunities. They end up encroaching on the free land available in the outskirts and every now and then face an anti-encroachment drive. We have heard talks about Sasti Basti schemes at different locations in Sindh but other provinces have overall remained silent on this matter. In April, the government of Sindh had asked the Board of Revenue to identify land in Sindh for Sasti basti schemes and directed the SKAA to prepare a plan for implementation but nothing concrete has come out in the past three months apart from the new amendment in the law. Prior to that in January this year, the PPP Chairman Bilawal Bhutto Zardari distributed lease documents of 150 plots to their occupants, but keeping in view the scale of this problem there is a need to do much more.
Housing is a basic necessity. In fact, the right to housing – not just shelter – should ideally be a fundamental human right. As per the UN, housing is “the right to live somewhere in security, peace and dignity.” Displacing people who have lived in an area for decades would displace entire communities. There have been too many cases of illegal construction on various lands. But, somehow, only the disenfranchised and under-privileged get eviction notices. The people of Karachi deserve justice, no matter to which community they belong, what their income level is, and where they live. Meanwhile, there are those that can operate with impunity. Those who cannot afford to buy influence with the state are treated as interlopers in the only homes they have ever known.