Saturday July 13, 2024

Govt urged to allocate land for addressing low-income group housing crisis

By our correspondents
January 12, 2016


Speakers at a seminar organised by the All Pakistan Alliance for ‘katchi abadis’ (APAKA) and the Awami Workers Party (AWP) titled ‘Justice for I-11: Towards Housing for All in Pakistan’ called on the Supreme Court to utilise this opportunity to pass a historic decision for comprehensive urban land reform in Pakistan and ensure the resettlement of the residents of I-11 ‘katchi abadis’ a precedent against brutal forced evictions in Pakistan.

The speakers, including Pakistan’s premier architect and urban planner Arif Hasan, Human Rights Commission of Pakistan Secretary General I. A. Rehman, AWP Punjab President Aasim Sajjad Akhtar and AWP Chairman Fanoos Gujjar, unanimously called on the government to plan and allocate land and resources to address the massive crisis of low-income housing in the country, including for the displaced residents of I-11. The event was attended by a large number of ‘katchi abadi’ residents, political workers, students, urban planners, members of civil society and ordinary citizens.

Commencing the proceedings, Aasim Sajjad said that the hearings of the Supreme Court case on ‘katchi abadis’ had been ongoing for 5 months now, and the AWP’s stance on ‘katchi abadis’ being a symptom of state failures had been repeatedly vindicated by the presiding judges.

In August 2015, a three-member bench of the Supreme Court had ordered a stay on ‘katchi abadi’ evictions and subsequently called for actionable plans for the provision of low-income housing. Dr. Sajjad said that it was now time that a judgment was passed to provide justice for the suffering residents of I-11 for their right to shelter, which would also establish a precedent against the violation of people’s rights through brutal forced evictions. He further said that, as a minimum, it was essential that Islamabad’s policies on ‘katchi abadis’ were upgraded to match those in the rest of the country as the CDA could not continue to deny the problem of low-income housing and their role in it.

Speaking on the occasion, HRCP Secretary General I A Rahman said that what had happened in I-11 on July 30 in terms of the destruction of people’s homes and lives, including those of thousands of children, was nothing less than a crime. He said that it was clear that the residents of I-11 and other ‘katchi abadis’ were targeted because of their class, not because of any question of legality. He said that multiple illegal housing societies for the rich existed all across the country but there was never any action taken against them. He said that the state had been using laws like the Land Acquisition Act to dispossess people since the colonial era and continued to today.

Rehman said that the question of low-income housing was a political issue, one of fundamental rights, which the state was bound to provide, as the provision of basic needs like housing, education and health could not be made conditional on people’s income or class. He said that, as citizens of Pakistan, the residents of I-11 had certain basic rights due to them, including shelter, and their resettlement was a test case for the government’s practical commitment to the rights of the populace. For long term solutions, he suggested to limit the size of houses and land provision for land for low-income housing.

Addressing the audience, urban planner and founder of the Orangi Pilot Project Arif Hasan said that the problem of ‘katchi abadis’ was deeply interrelated with the deeply skewed and unequal distribution of land in the country. He said that currently, the real estate market in the country was characterized by rampant speculation, in which public and private elites occupied land for speculative trading instead of actual utilization, leading to the spiraling land prices we see today. Not only did this make it impossible for the poor to legally acquire land for housing, leading to the development of ‘katchi abadis’, he said, it also constituted a criminal wastage of thousands of acres of land in an increasingly crowded urban landscape where the majority lived in ‘katchi abadis’. He said successive governments had utterly failed to understand the sociology and problems of the poor who live in informal settlements, which had led to failed policies and brutal actions like those that occurred in I-11.

Hasan said the only solution to this pervasive problem was widespread urban land reform in the country, including the establishment of land ceiling to prevent wasteful land accumulation in cities. Furthermore, the government needed to ensure the availability of housing finance for the poorest and create a market for low-income housing in the country. On the issue of I-11, he said that the residents should be resettled in the shape of a cooperative in which the government should provide them subsidized land.

AWP Chairman Fanoos Gujjar said that institutions like the Capital Development Authority needed to realize that Pakistan and Islamabad’s resources belonged to all citizens of this country regardless of class, religion, gender or ethnicity, and they could not exclude people on this basis. He said that processes of dispossession like the one in I-11 were ongoing across the country and the task of parties like the AWP was to unite these disparate struggles, of ‘katchi abadi’ residents, to informal sector workers to trade unionists, across the country in opposition to this unjust system of exploitation.

The speakers were followed by a lively question answer session with the audience in which various questions on the issue of housing, displacement, inequality, urban development and political mobilization on the matter were raised.

Finally, the participants passed a resolution calling for the resettlement of the I-11 ‘katchi abadi’, the establishment of a regulatory framework and directorate for ‘katchi abadis’ in Islamabad, the regularisation of existing settlements, resettlement where necessary, the establishment of land banks to prevent speculation and the allocation of at least 30 per cent plots for low-income citizens in all future housing developments.