Thirty-seven years old Noor Muhammad Khan, who lived for a long time in the katchi abadi (illegal settlements) of I-11 sector of Islamabad — a slum that was demolished by Capital Development Authority (CDA) almost five months ago — is now living with his big family in a small rented house in the city’s suburbs.
Khan, a daily wager at the local fruit and vegetable wholesale market, was born and brought up in the demolished I-11 slum after his father moved there from Mardan in KP almost four decades ago. He lived in that slum with his 30 family members that included his parents, five children, six brothers and their dependents. All the male members of the family are also daily wagers at the local fruit and vegetable market for the past several years.
“We have lost our home and are now living in a small house. We are shattered and sleepless since the demolition of our houses,” Khan tells TNS, hoping that the Supreme Court would do justice and order the government to provide them an alternate shelter.
“We came to this city only for labour and settled in this sector to earn bread and butter. We have been serving this city for the past four decades. Is that our fault?” he asks.
The CDA, on July 30, 2015, demolished Pakhtun-majority katchi abadi in sector I-11 of the federal capital using massive contingent of police, paramilitary troops and the CDA operational wing staff. This was one of the oldest katchi abadis of Islamabad. Many residents were temporarily arrested during the operation and a case under anti-terrorist legislation was subsequently lodged against 2,000 people, according to the facts gathered by Awami Workers’ Party (AWP), a political merger of left-wing groups that has stood up in the court against this demolition.
The petition, moved in the Supreme Court by the AWP representative, Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, urged the court to provide alternate shelter to I-11 affectees, to take immediate steps for realising the promise of dignified housing as constitutional obligation, and also grant perpetual injunction against evictions of the residents of katchi abadis throughout Pakistan, whether comprising of 40 or less units, unless they are provided alternate accommodation.
The last SC hearing of the case was held on Dec 3, 2015. The next is expected to be held on Jan 13, 2016.
The CDA started this operation against illegal settlements in the federal capital territory on the directions of the Islamabad High Court. Islamabad, according to CDA officials, has 42 katchi abadis while 10 such slums have been regularised in the past years, including one predominantly Christian locality in G-8 sector.
In Islamabad, katchi abadis started emerging as the need for labour arose for the construction of the city in the 1960s. There were two main labour settlements at first, one in G-8/3 and the other in Muslim Colony near Bari Imam. Most of the residents of these slums were labourers, sanitary workers, domestic workers or low-grade government servants.
The CDA has submitted a reply to the Supreme Court of Pakistan that has outraged the civil society and human rights groups. The CDA maintains before the court that these katchi abadis were making Islamabad ‘ugly’ and changing its religious demography from Muslim to Christian as most of the population in these slums is of people who are Christian by faith.
“Katchi abadis have distorted the picture of many sectors of the federal capital. They look like ugly villages,” the CDA told the court in its reply, adding, “It is necessary to identify the fact that most of the katchi abadis are under the occupation of the Christian community who have shifted from Narowal, Sheikhupura, Sialkot, Kasur, Sahiwal and Faisalabad etc and it seems this pace of occupation of land by Christian community may decrease Muslim majority of the capital.”
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The CDA report has also recommended to the court to not allow any illegal settlement in Islamabad and move the existing ones to the city’s suburbs.
“It is a complete failure of the state and inefficiency of local authorities to understand the housing needs of this growing city. The issue is not demolition of these houses but provision of proper shelter to these people according to the constitution,” says Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, the petitioner. “Such acts and such replies of the state machinery actually expose its negligence and incompetence,” he says, hoping that the SC will see this petition in a larger perspective.
“It is not the issue of one locality, it is the larger question of imbalance which the state and its machinery have created in the society with the passage of time where a large number of people are moving from villages and far flung areas to cities in search of opportunities for livelihood,” he continues.
According to the State Bank of Pakistan and the World Bank, housing backlog in the country is estimated at more than nine million units at present and the existing housing conditions are characterised by overcrowding, inadequate sewerage, pollution and poor building construction, which offers no security or protection from extreme weather.
According to the State Bank’s Quarterly Housing Finance Review there was shortage of around eight million housing units in 2009. This has been accumulating by 0.34 million units every year. Consequently, almost half of the total urban population is forced to live in squatters or informal settlements as indicated in the National Housing Policy 2001.
The CDA has outlined plans to demolish another 34 katchi abadis in Islamabad in the coming months. It continues to insist that it is not obliged to fulfill the state’s constitutional mandate to meet the shelter needs of the poor. There is no meaningful attempt at long-term planning to account for the future generations of the working people living in the capital.
This neglect is glaring in the light of the fact that Islamabad is one of the fastest growing cities in the country. The city’s population has increased from barely 600,000 in 1998 to almost two million.
Waseem Ahmad, Member Planning CDA, tells TNS that the operation against illegal settlements was started on the court’s orders and now the SC has stopped it till the case of I-11 settlement concludes. “We are waiting for further directions from the SC to deal with the katchi abadis,” he says, adding, “Currently, there is no law on katchi abadis in Islamabad and there is no directorate within the CDA to deal with this in particular.”
Tasneem Siddiqui, a senior attorney, who was appointed as an expert by the SC in this case, says that the issue is about the housing needs of the people of the country.
“Unfortunately, the federal capital lags far behind Sindh and Punjab and has willfully violated the existing countrywide protocols such as the National Housing Policy 2001 by engaging in summary evictions. The CDA only recognised the existence of katchi abadis in 1997. There is still no relevant legislation in place to regularise and upgrade existing settlements nor has the CDA conformed to policy stipulations vis-a-vis resettlement of katchi abadis that need to be relocated,” he says in the report submitted before the SC.
“It is thus of utmost importance that the CDA and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration be restrained from engaging in further summary evictions, immediately institute a regulatory framework for regularisation and resettlement in the CDA Ordinance 1960, undertake planning for low-income housing and initiate resettlement of the more than 15,000 evictees of I-11 that have borne the most recent brunt of the state’s historic failure to meet its constitutional obligations,” the expert’s report highlights.
Siddiqui urges the SC to order setting up of two new sectors in the city to cater to the needs of low-income residents. No housing society or sector should be approved without allocation of the houses for low-income group, he suggests. The affluent class should help here as well.
A law ministry report, submitted before the court in the same case, also recommends that the CDA be directed to implement and frame rules to carry out the objectives of the National Housing Policy of 2001, particularly its chapter dealing with the katchi abadis that is the National Katchi Abadi Policy of 2001; and that of the Cabinet Division of 1997 on the katchi abadis of Islamabad.
For Noor Muhammad Khan, however, it is not only a matter of owning a house but a change of whole scenario of life. “Now we are on rent. We have to go far from our home to earn. We are physically and mentally disturbed. The biggest issue is of education of our children. Around 800 children in the locality were studying free of cost in the schools opened by a non-government organisation in our settlement. Now hardly any child, including mine, is going to school. The schools are far away and expensive. This is the biggest loss we have suffered due to this displacement but the government is not bothered,” he says.