Wages of poor gov­er­nance

The Pak Banker - - 4EDITORIAL - I.A. Rehman

THE cal­lous man­ner in which the res­i­dents of a squat­ter set­tle­ment in Is­lam­abad have been evicted and the protesters booked for ter­ror­ism is the latest chap­ter in a long story of the state's fail­ure to dis­charge its ba­sic re­spon­si­bil­i­ties to the peo­ple. Its fail­ure to recog­nise the peo­ple's right to shel­ter re­sults in large-scale evic­tions in all parts of the coun­try.

The out­ra­geous treat­ment meted out to the res­i­dents of Is­lam­abad's I-11 katchi abadi, de­scribed as an Afghan basti pos­si­bly to blunt public sym­pa­thy for the vic­tims, raises many ques­tions. It is not clear whether a se­ri­ous at­tempt was made to se­cure an agree­ment with the af­fected peo­ple on al­ter­na­tive ac­com­mo­da­tion. And why was the set­tle­ment ig­nored for three decades? The squat­ters could not have been liv­ing there with­out the con­nivance of gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials that is never avail­able with­out a hefty fee. In­stead of try­ing the protesters, it is all those who lived off the katchi abadi res­i­dents that should be pun­ished.

The prob­lem of katchi abadis has been with us since the mor­row of in­de­pen­dence. As the pop­u­la­tion grew and the sur­plus ru­ral labour sought work in ur­ban cen­tres, slums started ap­pear­ing on the fringes of nearly all towns and cities. As Is­lam­abad's pop­u­la­tion in­creases, it too at­tracts a large pop­u­la­tion for a va­ri­ety of jobs.

Those who take of­fence at ugly patches in the cap­i­tal city of­ten ig­nore the fact that these un­der­priv­i­leged cit­i­zens of Pak­istan of­fer com­fort to the oc­cu­pants of vul­garly large man­sions be­sides mak­ing a sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion to the coun­try's in­for­mal econ­omy.

The state has never man­aged to do its duty by those in­ca­pable of fend­ing for them­selves. What­ever may be said in de­fence of the CDA's ham-handed treat­ment of the I-11 katchi abadi, the fact is that the vic­tims' right to shel­ter can­not be de­nied be­cause it has a di­rect nexus with the right to life. All the up­rooted fam­i­lies must be speed­ily re­ha­bil­i­tated.

The gov­ern­ment's lack of re­spect for katchi abadi dwellers is also ev­i­dent in the way the in­ter­nally dis­placed per­sons (IDPs) have been treated over the past decade or so. Whether dis­place­ment was caused by nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or by con­flict, the state never man­aged to do its duty by the vic­tims, most of whom were in­ca­pable of fend­ing for them­selves.

In a way, the is­sue of the IDPs should claim pri­or­ity as they do not leave their homes by choice; they are forced to seek shel­ter by the fury of na­ture and some­times they are asked to aban­don their habi­tats by the state it­self.

Un­for­tu­nately, the IDPs have of­ten been treated as aliens and illegal im­mi­grants. No lessons seem to have been learnt from the fail­ure to man­age the ex­o­dus of peo­ple from the con­flict zones in Swat and more re­cently from Fata.

All observers agree that the IDPs do not like to stay in the of­fi­cially es­tab­lished camps be­cause they lack min­i­mum es­sen­tial fa­cil­i­ties. It seems the author­i­ties are re­lieved to see a ma­jor­ity of the dis­placed per­sons seek­ing shel­ter in rented premises or with friends/rel­a­tives. These peo­ple live in ap­palling con­di­tions, up to a score of them herded in a small room. They face se­vere haz­ards to their health and the ed­u­ca­tional needs of their chil­dren are rarely met.

Per­haps the dis­in­cli­na­tion to cater to the needs of katchi abadi set­tlers and the IDPs stems from the state's lack of in­ter­est in de­vel­op­ing a long-term hous­ing ex­pan­sion frame­work. The fact that from time to time katchi abadis have been reg­u­larised gives all slum dwellers hope of re­ceiv­ing sim­i­lar ben­e­fits if they stay long enough at the site oc­cu­pied by them.

The way slums de­velop not only on the out­skirts of towns and cities but also in the heart of posh colonies in Karachi, La­hore and Is­lam­abad is known to all. The main fac­tor is the state's in­abil­ity to plan hous­ing for the con­tin­u­ous in­flux of peo­ple into ma­jor cities. The cities welcome the avail­abil­ity of cheap labour but they are not se­ri­ously in­ter­ested in pro­vid­ing it with proper liv­ing space.

Even the pi­o­neer­ing work by the Orangi Pi­lot Pro­ject, the Khuda Ki Basti scheme and the Aga Khan Ru­ral Sup­port Pro­gramme to or­gan­ise the un­der­priv­i­leged com­mu­ni­ties for ac­quir­ing de­cent liv­ing con­di­tions has not moved the state author­i­ties to work out a long-term plan to meet the fast-grow­ing pop­u­la­tion's hous­ing needs.

The hous­ing back­log keeps mount­ing and the author­i­ties are ob­sessed with the pro­vi­sion of mod­ern trans­port and sig­nal-free cor­ri­dors for the vul­gar rich. It's any­one's guess as to how long the author­i­ties will go on build­ing ug­ly­look­ing colonies and forc­ing the peo­ple to live in hov­els they can­not like. Is there no way to con­vince them that the best way to avoid the mul­ti­pli­ca­tion of slums is to de­velop land for hous­ing colonies at state ex­pense and let the poor build their homes, bit by bit, in ac­cor­dance with their needs and tastes?

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