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“Housing is a verb and not a noun”

Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui, former chief of Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority, takes a critical look at the phenomenon of Katchi Abadi

“Housing is a verb and not a noun”

The News on Sunday (TNS): In your interviews and talks you have maintained that “katchi abadis are not an aberration; they are a phenomenon”. Please explain what you mean by phenomenon. How can this complex phenomenon be addressed?

Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui (TAS): Opposed to phenomenon is an aberration. Aberration is one time activity for instance an accident, an emergency, a disaster, a cyclone… Aberration is what we witnessed after partition in 1947, that is a large number of people came to the cities, while a fewer number exited. At that time, people established settlements wherever they found space, even on footpaths. So that [emergency situation] can be described as an aberration.

However, if the housing shortage stays for a longer time, it becomes a phenomenon. Today, people need housing but cannot get it.

TNS: What can be done to avoid the development of katchi abadis in the first stage?

TAS: It is important to understand the causes of katchi abadis. Many people do not understand that there is an acute shortage of housing for the low-income segment. Those earning Rs15,000 a month make up 60 per cent of the urban population, yet there is no housing for them. At the same time, the higher and the higher middle-income population have a glut of housing available for them.

The city of Islamabad is an example. It was designed for the ruling elites, bureaucrats and diplomats. However, no provision for housing was made for the people serving these elites.

Housing is not an engineering issue. It’s an issue of sociology and economy of the poor. It’s a verb and not a noun. Housing encompasses social improvement opportunities rather than merely a plot for the poor, as done in government schemes. Way back in the 1950s, a Minister Azam Khan developed a 10,000-units housing scheme for the poor in Korangi, Karachi. People moved in but left soon as the scheme was devoid of any social services provision.

The poor require facilities for health, schooling, income generation, and general wellbeing. In katchi abadis, people find these solutions themselves. From space to services, it’s all on self-help basis and it’s all informal.

TNS: What exactly is the status of the public and private sector’s contribution towards housing development today?

TAS: Earlier till the 1960s, the state shouldered the responsibility for housing development, while also allowing the private sector to work. With time, it stepped back, letting the private sector to take over. However, private sector also includes the informal sector, which has its own colours and shades. They work wherever they find the space.

The biggest problem is that of land, which is an expensive asset. Most settlements are developed on state land. If the private sector wishes to work on low-cost housing, the state should conditionally provide land to it at subsidised rates. For cost reduction, the private sectors should start with minimum development. Through Khuda Ki Basti, we have shown that the private and the public sector can jointly work together for housing.

With the public sector, the biggest problem is that of service delivery. Their services do not reach the targeted sector. The state conducts balloting for low-cost housing/plot distribution but does nothing to ensure that the plot gets to the deserving people. A majority of these plots land in the hands of the educated/literate class that holds on to it for future selling rather than for settling purpose.

TNS: How much has urbanisation been a part of the problem or part of the solution?

TAS: The agriculture sector in Pakistan has received very little state attention. There has been no land distribution, no income distribution, no rural development and [no jobs in the rural areas]. In Sindh, even the medium-sized cities have not been developed. While the rural areas have 60 per cent population and the medium-sized cities have no opportunities for livelihoods, people move to capital cities in search of work.

While we have ignored our rural areas we are not planning our urban centres either. For example, in Karachi, there was no master plan for a number of years. Urbanisation is natural but it should not be haphazard. The state should expand housing and other social services in the urban centres.

TNS: In what context should the state’s failure be seen? Is it an issue of capacity, development priorities or merely a lack of apathy and absence of accountability?

TAS: Pakistan’s major problem is that of policy, management and vision. There is no understanding of the problem of the housing backlog. There is a backlog of seven million houses. Even if mafias are exploiting the situation, how far can anybody go [in fulfilling this gap]?

As far as capacity is concerned, the state has taken too many responsibilities and is unable to deliver. This is not helped by the fact that there is no accountability. Following the first 25 years of independence, the colonial administrative system, with efficient delivery and some accountability, kept the state moving. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto jolted the system and the future governments further damaged it. If a state is dismantling a system, it needs to replace it with a new one. The state kept on taking up responsibilities with nationalisation, while also shedding the various tiers of accountability one-by-one.

Today, with additional responsibilities, the bureaucracy’s capacity to deliver is largely gone and political class is more concerned with making money. The whole system needs a restructuring.

TNS: With all provinces of Pakistan at different levels in terms of development, how can one describe the provincial context of the problem of housing shortage and informal settlements?

TAS: There is more equality in terms of development in Punjab compared to Sindh. Various areas of central and north Punjab are very well developed. In Sindh, apart from Karachi, no cities are developed. Even important centres like Hyderabad and Sukkur present a poor picture. This has implications for migration as people tend to move to the cities in the absence of opportunities in their hometowns.

In Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, we can use the push and pull theory. When the rulers decided to turn Karachi into a modern industrial city, the requirement for cheap labour was fulfilled by the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa migrants, as the Karachi’s locals were mainly involved in blue and white collared jobs. All the development requiring hard menial labour used the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa workers. So Karachi pulled this labour force. At the same time, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa did not have much industrialisation and jobs, so the region was pushing its population away. With the Afghan war and the influx of three million refugees, this got further complicated. General Zia did not pursue any policy of restricting the refugees at a confined zone. The Afghan refugees made camps and even established businesses here. If your social infrastructure is burdened then there is bound to be friction between the locals and migrants.

Today, katchi abadis have been accepted as a phenomenon. The SindhProvince has had more progressive policies vis-à-vis informal settlements compared to other provinces. Sindh’s Katchi Abadi Authority was also replicated by Punjab. However, Islamabad’s bureaucrats did not accept it as a phenomenon. The state has no system of institutional memory, otherwise there are policies concerning the informal settlements — such as Guidelines for Improvement and Regularisation of Katchi Abadis — that have been debated and approved.

TNS: Why are international development agencies not too keen to contribute to this issue in terms of development assistance?

TAS: I don’t see any role for the World Bank and the IMF in the issue. These agencies create dependencies. Social problems should be resolved using local resources. People are generally ready to pay provided that they get something in return. The state should make provision for affordable services and ensure that the delivery system is functioning too.

TNS: What is the position of the political leadership over the issue?

TAS: Our assemblies just represent top 15 per cent of the population. No representative of the bottom 60 per cent low-income segment goes to the assembly. Our leaders do not let the local government function. Whatever progress and development has been made on the informal settlement in Sindh has been in the time of the local governments. Regularisation and up-gradation is a very tedious work; there are at least 15 stages involved. Local councillors can effectively help move this forward.

TNS: Generally, you do not advocate relocation of settlements, except in the case of Machchar Colony. So what is the solution —  low-cost housing or regularisation?

TAS: The problem of informal settlements has two sides. One is what to do about the katchi abadis, and the other is what to do about the population – mainly low income groups – migrating to big cities. For example Karachi has a population of 20 million growing at a rate of 4 per cent. Even if you regularise the katchi abadis, there needs to be a plan to provide housing to the incoming migrants to the cities as well the local population that is growing naturally. In order to address this phenomenon, it is important that you provide low-cost housing.

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