The property prices in Islamabad have been soaring. The government plans for affordable housing have yet to materialise
In August 2021, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) sold about 24 commercial plots for Rs 40 billion. In 2020, it received Rs 17 billion through the sale of commercial plots.
Auctions involving billions of rupees are uncommon in most cities but routine in Islamabad. Due to the magnitude of these investments, Prime Minister Imran Khan took a personal interest and tweeted praise for the civic body.
At the same time, a statement was issued by the PM’s office announcing the development of low-priced housing schemes. The project is to be paid for through the sale of high end, expensive properties.
Before forming an opinion about the price of land in Islamabad, one has to keep in mind that the CDA is a state organ. The prices that these auctions reflect are thus far lower than the market price of land in the federal capital.
Once a plot is bought, the owner is hounded by property agents offering steep profits. Eventually, the agents become hard to dodge.
Prof Tahir Malik, who teaches at the National University of Modern Languages (NUML), says, “A an average salaried person cannot afford to rent any of these properties, let alone buy one. I was in the market for a rental for my brother and most agents demanded payment in US dollars.”
“The owners of these properties largely live abroad. They do not want to risk their income by charging rent in rupee, which is an increasingly unstable currency,” he explains. Interestingly, right in front of these luxury houses and posh markets, there are government residences for bureaucrats. “The bureaucrats pay peanuts and occupy prime land in Islamabad. Providing them with the standard rental price instead of the minimal deduction will free up space to convert these residences in posh areas into high-rise buildings. This way the government can earn billions and provide affordable living to a lot more people,” he suggests.
Islamabad is home to at least a million residents. A map of the city shows that it initially expanded towards GT Road. The DHA, the Naval Anchorage, Bahria Town and other private housing societies pushed the limits of the city to Gujjar Khan and Chakri.
After the inauguration of the new airport, private builders have developed arable land on both sides of the motorway till Fateh Jang.
“The city now knows no limits. The city managers squarely failed to develop any residential sectors after Gen Musharraf. On the decades old master plan of the city, one can find several residential sectors that do not exist on the ground. Generations upon generations of those who were allotted plots in these sectors have waiting for those to become residential. People have paid good money but received nothing in return. This is all happening in the most planned city in the country which also houses the seat of the government,”says Malik.
When the prime minister announced the launch of low-priced housing schemes in 2020, the CDA went to work to make this announcement a reality. The government’s trademark Mera Ghar and easy home financing schemes were meant for the entire country.
For Islamabad, the CDA revisited the master plan, allowing high-rise buildings to push the vertical limits of the city. However, little changed on the ground as those who can pay apparently do not like to live in flats.
The delay in development of new residential sectors is partly explained by litigation. The CDA faces court proceedings from current owners of land who are unwilling to vacate it for the federal capital.
Recently, the Islamabad High Court courts has questioned the distribution of plots among bureaucrats, judges and journalists. Once government schemes become controversial, prices of property in private housing societies rise. Ironically, thus, property mafias are the main beneficiaries in any case.
Prof Azizur Rehman, a former chairman of the Department of Sharia and Law at International Islamic University Islamabad (IIUI), however, likes this brand of judicial activism.
“However small the number of judges and bureaucrats may be, the question before the courts is” can the regulations meant to the benefit a few be justified? No amount of casuistry can justify the unjustifiable. Why is land doled out to government institutions, civil and military, to build housing societies? It is not their job to run real estate businesses,” he says.
“Courts should hold the relevant authorities accountable for the delay in development of infrastructure in various sectors. The recent court verdicts promise to plug the gaps in the system that the elite have created for themselves,” he says. According to Rehman, the courts need to address the issues that affect the masses. They should provide relief to those who have made the payments but have yet to receive their due. He points out that Park Enclave, Sectors E, F and G have yet to be developed according to the master plan. Even where allottees have been given possession of land, the civic facilities are lacking.
“The situation is very grim. Due to the formation of property cartels, people move to the far edges of the city. As a result, the roads are clogged at office times,” he says. He says the prime minister needs to focus on the huge shortage of affordable housing rather than gloat over billion rupee auctions.
The writer teaches development support communication at International Islamic University Islamabad. Twitter: @HassanShehzadZ Email: Hassan.email@example.com