An anti-poor so­ci­ety

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - Umair Javed

ON Thurs­day, the Cap­i­tal De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity launched an op­er­a­tion to de­mol­ish an in­for­mal set­tle­ment of roughly 8,000 res­i­dents si­t­u­ated in sec­tor I-11 of Is­lam­abad. Dur­ing day one of this ac­tiv­ity, about 200 houses were de­mol­ished, sev­eral peo­ple were ar­rested for protest­ing, many more were in­jured by ba­ton-charges, and tear­gas de­ployed by po­lice of­fi­cers re­port­edly re­sulted in the death of a six-day old in­fant due to suf­fo­ca­tion.

While oth­ers have al­ready com­mented on the heavy-handed and vi­o­lent be­hav­iour of the gov­ern­ment, it's also worth re­flect­ing on the re­ac­tion shown by the ' le­gal' res­i­dents of Is­lam­abad, and those ob­serv­ing these scenes else­where. On CDA's Face­book page and on Twit­ter, many cit­i­zens - pre­sum­ably all from the com­par­a­tively af­flu­ent mid­dle class or above - voiced vo­cif­er­ous en­cour­age­ment for the state's heavy-hand­ed­ness. Their ar­gu­ments of sup­port, inar­tic­u­late as they are, be­tray a re­liance on sev­eral ba­sic prin­ci­ples.

The first prin­ci­ple, and per­haps the most per­sua­sive for many, is the ques­tion of le­gal right to the land, the ar­gu­ment be­ing that slums and encroachers are il­le­gally squat­ting on land the CDA al­lot­ted to its em­ploy­ees in 1990; hence they should be re­moved (with force if nec­es­sary), and the land re­turned to its right­ful claimants. The re­moval of any set­tle­ment of more than 40 houses has to be ac­com­pa­nied by a re­set­tle­ment plan.

Those of­fer­ing this ar­gu­ment are un­aware of sev­eral other le­gal in­junc­tions gov­ern­ing the rules around in­for­mal set­tle­ments - for starters, set­tle­ments ex­ist­ing for more than a cer­tain du­ra­tion (in Is­lam­abad's case, since 1985) can­not be forcibly re­moved, as stated in the Na­tional Hous­ing Pol­icy, in sev­eral pro­vin­cial katchi abadi acts, and the Na­tional Katchi Abadi Pol­icy of 2001. Re­cently, in the wake of in­creased mil­i­tancy in and around the cap­i­tal, the gov­ern­ment de­cided to re­visit the is­sue of katchi abadis, os­ten­si­bly for se­cu­rity pur­poses. As per its own pol­icy frame­work, the re­moval of any set­tle­ment of more than 40 houses has to be ac­com­pa­nied by a re­set­tle­ment plan, keep­ing in view the liveli­hood and shel­ter re­quire­ments of the res­i­dents. In the I-11 case, no such op­tion is be­ing given to the res­i­dents, and they're sim­ply told to ' go back from where they came'. The sec- ond is­sue con­cern­ing le­gal­ity is the cit­i­zen­ship of those re­sid­ing in I-11. Ini­tially, the gov­ern­ment de­clared that the res­i­dents were Afghan refugees, who - for what­ever rea­son - have even less of a right to re­side on the out­skirts of the cap­i­tal city.

This, as many have al­ready pointed out, is bla­tantly un­true; some­thing that the CDA re­luc­tantly ad­mit­ted af­ter the op­er­a­tion be­gan. In a 2012 sur­vey con­ducted by the UNHCR, only one-tenth of the to­tal num­ber of house­holds in the set­tle­ment were Afghan, while the rest were mi­grants from parts of Khy­ber Pakhtunkhwa and Fata. This num­ber has de­creased even fur­ther in the last two years.

More­over, re­search car­ried out by the All Pak­istan Al­liance for Katchi Abadis, and the Awami Work­ers Party, shows voter lists from this set­tle­ment go­ing all the way back to the 1985 non-party gen­eral elec­tions. Most of the house­holds be­ing evicted pos­sess Pak­istani cit­i­zen­ship, which can be ver­i­fied through any num­ber of doc­u­ments - CNICs, B-Forms, voter-lists - and have been par­tic­i­pat­ing in the elec­toral process. In essence, the CDA ma­chin­ery is telling Pak­istani cit­i­zens that they have no right to live in or around Is­lam­abad. Apart from the sud­den in­fat­u­a­tion with le­gal­ity - which, cu­ri­ously enough, is mostly miss­ing when other kinds of con­sti­tu­tional and le­gal vi­o­la­tions take place in this coun­try - we're wit­ness­ing moral, eth­i­cal, and even aes­thetic ar­gu­ments.

One such vari­ant is la­belling in­for­mal set­tle­ments as dens of crim­i­nal­ity, and those re­sid­ing in them, as land mafias. It is well and truly be­wil­der­ing to see such blan­ket dec­la­ra­tions, which jus­tify op­pres­sive state ac­tion that is noth­ing short of col­lec­tive pun­ish­ment. All search oper­a­tions con­ducted by se­cu­rity agen­cies and law en­force­ment agen­cies have yielded noth­ing from the katchi abadis, and thus this con­sis­tent por­trayal of work­ing class peo­ple re­sid­ing in squalid, ter­ri­ble con­di­tions as some sort of priv­i­leged mafia amounts to ig­no­rance of the most as­ton­ish­ing va­ri­ety.

Fi­nally, one sees peo­ple cheer­lead­ing the op­er­a­tion in the name of pre­serv­ing Is­lam­abad's beauty, and its sta­tus as the ex­clu­sive sanc­tu­ary of the elite. Such sen­ti­ment does lit­tle else but ex­pose the naked clas­sism of Pak­istan's state and so­ci­ety, wherein work­ing class peo­ple should dis­ap­pear af­ter ful­fill­ing their du­ties as driv­ers, cooks, hawk­ers, guards, and labour­ers.

All these ar­gu­ments seem wrong, in fact, es­pe­cially wrong, com­ing from a sub­sec­tion of so­ci­ety that has ben­e­fit­ted the most from state sub­si­dies and se­lec­tive ap­pli­ca­tion or mis­ap­pli­ca­tion of laws. The state has, lit­er­ally, cre­ated en­tire seg­ments of the elite and the af­flu­ent in Is­lam­abad and other parts of the coun­try by pro­vid­ing jobs, and al­lo­cat­ing land at throw­away prices to its mostly in­com­pe­tent em­ploy­ees. It pro­vides sub­sidised, cen­trally lo­cated hous­ing and ac­com­mo­da­tion to its own of­fi­cers, who of­ten leave work at 2 pm (on a good day).

It con­tin­ues to sub­sidise elite play­grounds like the Is­lam­abad Club, which pays less than a pal­try Rs700,000 in an­nual rent for 244 acres of prime sub­ur­ban land, as re­ported in the media, and pro­vides blan­ket cover to the 72-acre gun club, il­le­gally built on gov­ern­ment land. Al­most ev­ery day, through­out the coun­try, state sanc­tion is given to elite hous­ing de­vel­op­ers who build il­le­gally, sell and dis­trib­ute plots, and then seek ap­proval ret­ro­spec­tively from the author­i­ties.

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