Saturday December 04, 2021

Nasla demolition

November 26, 2021

It is a sad end to a prolonged episode that saw hundreds of residents displaced as a partially encroached building comes down in bits and pieces. The local administration is implementing its demolition operation of Nasla Tower after the Supreme Court once again rebuked the Karachi commissioner who had reportedly been reluctant to comply with the court order – because of the exorbitant cost of the demolition – but the court asked the commissioner to recover the cost from the builder. This nearly six-month old story is now coming to a tragic conclusion as the 15-storey residential building is under the drills, hammers and wrecking ball of government machinery. Its imminent demotion is only days away now as its method of demolition has been chosen to be mostly hand and machinery driven rather than the use of more modern methods. Surprisingly, the administration has opted to start the demolition from the ground floor and not from the uppermost floor, as it is normally done in such cases. One can only hope that this bottom-up demolition does not endanger the lives of machine operators and labourers involved in the process.

A three-judge SC bench headed by the chief justice of Pakistan has ordered the building be demolished without any delay. Since the building was only partially encroached upon the land meant for a service road another option could have been to demolish only the encroached part, but the order was clearly to bring down the building in its entirety. The Supreme Court has also directed the builders to refund the amount to the registered buyers of commercial and residential units within three months. The implementation of this order is still pending and buyers have expressed dismay at the delay in payments because they have nowhere to live with their families. In another similar case, on SC orders, the FIA started an operation to demolish a private club on the land of the Civil Aviation Authority. In addition the SC bench also directed the FIA to clear and handover 200 acres of the CAA land that the Sindh government had allotted to the CAA in 1992 but the Board of Revenue had illegally allotted the land to private persons by bifurcating it into plots.

In both cases, and in many other similar cases, there are serious questions. The first is about what consequences officers who allowed the illegal allotment and constructions in the first place will face, if any. Ultimately unsuspecting buyers suffer. A second question is about the housing rights of the people as it is the responsibility of the state to provide affordable and quality housing to its citizens. To begin with, the state has failed to fulfil its primary responsibilities including residential rights of the people. And then if people do invest the savings of their lifetime in a building or a flat, the state comes into action to deprive them of their assets. If these assets were on encroached or illegal lands, the onus is on all the people including the officers who held decision-making power at the time of the allotment or encroachment. What the state is supposed to do is take to task those who allowed this to happen instead of making buyers and residents run from pillar to post to get their due compensation at the current market rate. And let us not forget that anti-encroachment drives have traditionally had a tendency to target the poor – as we have seen in the heartbreaking images of the way the Gujjar and Orangi nullah residents have been treated. Powerful land-grabbers snatch prime property but action is never taken against them. If anything, the state works hand-in-glove with them to give away public land at throwaway prices. Those who are wealthy enough can pay to have their properties ‘regularised’. In fact, if every violation of land use was overturned, every illegal building and katchi abadi demolished, every commercial centre that broke zoning regulations shut down then Karachi would be a city with very few homes and businesses. This is a problem which has been decades in the making and will take just as long to solve. But the solution must be pro-people.