Land-grab com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion epi­demic

Over the years, concerned cit­i­zens and com­mu­nity groups have ral­lied around to fight ma­raud­ers, and many have suc­ceeded, some­times with the help of the su­pe­rior courts.

The Pak Banker - - 4editorial - Ardeshir Cowas­jee

THE plan­ning, al­lot­ment and oc­cu­pa­tion of most ur­ban-devel­op­ment schemes in the cen­tre of ma­jor cities in Pak­istan, in­clud­ing ar­eas/quar­ters ex­ist­ing pre-1947, has been pro­gres­sive over the past six decades, never flag­ging.

Our cities are in­un­dated with houses, apart­ment build­ings, fac­to­ries, com­mer­cial plazas and shop­ping ar­eas due in part to the unchecked in­crease in pop­u­la­tion (ap­prox­i­mately 500 per cent over 63 years) and partly to ru­ralur­ban mi­gra­tion (around 700 per cent ur­ban pop­u­la­tion in­crease). Some cities have streets ' paved with gold': Karachi has ex­ploded from 0.4 to 18 mil­lion.

Un­der these con­gested overde­vel­oped cir­cum­stances, what is a grabby crafty politician, bu­reau­crat or de­vel­oper (who re­alises that wealth de­pends on land/prop­erty) to do? He can­not use his po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence to ac­quire valu­able vir­gin land in the ur­ban cen­tres: it has al­ready been given away by the govern­ment.

But then, there are still vast open spa­ces avail­able in over­crowded precincts - amenity and pub­lic-use plots, many yet un­de­vel­oped ow­ing to a paucity of re­sources, mis­placed pri­or­i­ties of govern­ment agen­cies, or kept for fu­ture use such as spa­ces for parks, play­grounds, schools, hos­pi­tals, govern­ment build­ings, ceme­ter­ies, beach prom­e­nades, the­atres, trans­porta­tion (rail­way, air­ports, bus de­pots), util­ity/mu­nic­i­pal sys­tems (wa­ter­sup­ply, sewage-treat­ment, solid­waste dis­posal) and green buf­fer zones.

So he utilises his cun­ning, po­lit­i­cal con­nec­tions and clout (money shouts!) and man­ages the al­lot­ment of slices of such amenity spa­ces, or per­suades an agency (CAA, Rail­way, Post Of­fice, etc) to lease a 'sur­plus' plot for com­mer­cial use, or in­vades the area - start­ing with the con­struc­tion of a small mosque. In these ven­tures, he finds will­ing ac­com­plices in the of­fi­cials whose statu­tory duty it is to pro­tect the pub­lic lands.

Over the years, concerned cit­i­zens and com­mu­nity groups have ral­lied around to fight ma­raud­ers, and many have suc­ceeded, some­times with the help of the su­pe­rior courts. Ex­am­ples are Doongi Ground in La­hore, Fatima Jin­nah Park in Is­lam­abad, Webb (Makro) Play­ground in Karachi (un­for­tu­nately still in limbo), and the 11 Karachi Trans­port and 15 Sindh Road Trans­port bus de­pots all over the prov­ince.

Some ef­forts to save amenity spa­ces have so far failed - NLCEn­sha's Fi­nan­cial Tow­ers in Karachi's City Sta­tion Mar­shalling Yard, Sheikh Zayed's Mubarak Cen­tre on a Pun­jab Road Trans­port bus de­pot in La­hore, hous­ing en­croach­ments on parks in Karachi (North Naz­imabad, Gul­shan-i-Iqbal, Ko­rangi, etc, and on sewage-treat­ment land in Gut­ter Baghicha and Mah­mood­abad). The press re­cently car­ried satel­lite im­ages of the cap­ture of nu­mer­ous amenity spa­ces in Bal­dia and Sur­jani over the past year. A dif­fer­ent type of wor­ry­ing coun­try­wide land-use change is the es­tab­lish­ment of of­fice, bank and ed­u­ca­tional build­ings on fac­tory plots. In Karachi, this is es­ca­lat­ing in SITE, Ko­rangi and Fed­eral 'B' in­dus­trial ar­eas: Meezan Bank head of­fice, Gen­er­a­tion School's new branch, Lucky-One com­mer­cial-cum-res­i­den­tial project and oth­ers are be­ing built in the mid­dle of the pol­lu­tion and chaos of man­u­fac­tur­ing.

There seems to be scant con­cern for the health and wel­fare of of­fice staff or school­child­ren, or the traf­fic con­ges­tion that will re­sult, or the height­ened stress on util­i­ties/in­fra­struc­ture. All na­tional build­ing reg­u­la­tions, in­clud­ing Karachi Build­ing Con­trol Author­ity Reg­u­la­tion 2002 sec­tion No18-4.2.7, pro­hibits the con­ver­sion of fac­tory plots to res­i­den­tial or com­mer­cial use, ex­cept CNG/petrol sta­tions. Have in­ter­ested mafia 'per­suaded' the var­i­ous au­thor­i­ties to amend this law?

One par­tial suc­cess story is Karachi's 'Costa Liv­ina' in Bagh-eIbn-e-Qasim, Clifton. In 1976, Marvi In­vest­ments con­trived to have a one-acre 'com­mer­cial plot' for a re­volv­ing res­tau­rant carved out at the sea-front of the park. The KDA al­lot­ment let­ter was is­sued in 1990, and five weeks later it was sold to Pearl Builders. Within two months, a 16-floor apart­ment build­ing with a re­volv­ing res­tau­rant at the top had been ap­proved by the KBCA. The govern­ment bent over back­wards for well-con­nected Pearl Builders (owned by a present mem­ber of the Sindh govern­ment). The cit­i­zens chal­lenged the com­mer­cial apart­ments in the park, and the pe­ti­tion was even­tu­ally de­cided in a 1999 land­mark judg­ment of the Supreme Court which con­sid­er­ably broad­ened the con­cept of lo­cus standi in pub­lic-in­ter­est is­sues, re­moved con­tra­dic­tions in a pre­vi­ous SC judg­ment, found Pearl Builders cul­pa­ble of "ma­nip­u­la­tion con­trary to law", and di­rected them to sub­mit a new plan for the re­volv­ing res­tau­rant only; af­ter ap­proval, the ex­ist­ing struc­ture (apart from the por­tion that could be used in the re­volv­ing res­tau­rant) was to be de­mol­ished; if the builder failed to sub­mit a plan within 60 days, the il­le­gal struc­ture was to be de­mol­ished.

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