RAWALPINDI, Jan 18: Before going into the general elections, the PML-N wants to handout property rights to hundreds of thousands of dwellers of katchi abadis in Punjab, the province it rules, but government officials could find none in Rawalpindi — not even close to it.
Officials managing the vote-catching scheme in Lahore were dumbfounded to learn from the City District Government Rawalpindi (CDGR) that there exists no katchi abadi in or outside the garrison city whose dwellers would qualify for the largess.
A CDGR officer told Dawn that the last time such kindness was shown to the city’s slum dwellers was by Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi as chief minister of Punjab before the 2008 general elections.
Then four katchi abadis were identified in the city - two each in Rawal Town and Potohar Town limits - but property rights were given to the dwellers of three only.
Who would believe that katchi abadis have vanished since then? Certainly not the PML-N legislators, representing the Rawalpindi constituencies, who have their political future at stake in the general elections expected in summer.
Local officials said the Punjab government’s plans call for granting property rights to dwellers of 326,516 katchi abadi units in the province, probably by mid February.
Dwellers will be charged Rs172 per marla of land but widows and orphans would be exempted from that fee.
“It is untrue to say there exists no katchi abadi in the city with dwellers deserving property rights,” said PML-N MPA Shaheryar Riaz and named three.
“I have written a letter to Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif about the presence of Mujahid Colony and Kashmir Colony in Union Council No. 37 and Kashmir Chaman Colony in Union Council No. 45,” he said.
MNA Malik Shakil Awan, elected from NA-55, counted one more – at Khayaban-i-Sir Syed along the Leh Nullah. “Dwellers of two others, at Bhosa Godam and Wagon Colony in Dhoke Ratta, have already been granted property rights by the provincial government,” he said.
However, the problem of identifying a katchi abadi “deserving” the right may lie in deciding whether it stands on state land or on private land.
A CDGR official said the land on which Mujahid Colony, Kashmir Colony and Kashmir Chaman Colony stand has become disputed because some residents had encroached private land. “The government will not give property rights to encroachers,” he said.Pervaiz Elahi-led Punjab government had granted the right to 51 dwellers of a katchi abadi in 2007 when it stopped the process because the Evacuee Property Trust went to court claiming seven kanals of the land the katchi abadi occupied was given to a Hindu Dharam Shala before Pakistan came into being.
That litigation is yet to be decided by the Lahore High Court.
One katchi abadi, the Ziaul Haq Colony, occupies land belonging to Pakistan Railway. The local administration pursued the state-run entity to declare it a katchi abadi but it refused to do so unless permitted by the federal government.
An official of CDGR told Dawn that in the three other districts of Rawalpindi division, Attock and Jhelum have one katchi abadi each and Chakwal none.
Commissioner Imdadullah Bosal said the provincial government had asked for details of residents of katchi abadis established up to end of 2011 in the Rawalpindi Division, which had been provided.
But the property rights would be decided by the provincial government according to its own schedule.
“Basically, the government wanted to give property rights to the residents of katchi abadis established on provincial government’s land,” he said.