ISLAMABAD: Since no effort was made by the city’s administration to set up low income housing, labourers and workers were left with no choice but to establish their own informal settlements, known as katchi abadis.
This was one of the reasons put forward by Dr Aasim Sajjad Akhtar, Punjab president of Awami Workers Party (AWP), for the numerous katchi abadis in Islamabad during a seminar on Thursday.
Organised by the All Pakistan Alliance for Katchi Abadis, the seminar, titled ‘Beyond Evictions: Resolving the crisis of low income housing in Islamabad’, aimed to explore the rise of katchi abadis in Islamabad and Karachi, and the failure of government organisations such as the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to regulate the phenomenon.
Dr Akhtar said that these settlements had long been accepted by the CDA and politicians, but once labourers were not needed in the city, they were branded criminals or terrorists and evicted or moved to the city’s outskirts.
Labourers who arrived in the city had to rely on informal settlements for accommodation
He attributed the phenomenon to urban migration, stating that many katchi abadis were populated by labourers who moved to the city for work.
Akhtar also criticised the terminology used to describe katchi abadi residents, asking how it was possible that all those unable to afford housing in Islamabad could be branded criminals. He said the housing crisis cannot be solved by police action and bulldozers.
The seminar also featured urban policy expert Tasneem Siddiqui, who discussed his experience regulating katchi abadis in Sindh. Siddiqui stated that laws pertaining to katchi abadis must be established in Islamabad, just as they have been in other provinces. He added that some guidelines do exist in the capital, and gave the example of 2001, when the CDA stated that katchi abadi residents who had moved to Islamabad before 1995 would not be uprooted.
Siddiqui also discussed the structural factors that have caused many to turn to informal settlements for housing in Islamabad. He said that even though the city was designed by world-renowned planners, they presumed that the city would only be populated by bureaucrats, diplomats, politicians and smugglers, who could afford to live in palatial homes. He said there was little effort to establish low income housing in the city, and that the few projects that do exist often do not even have electricity or running water.
Siddiqui said Islamabad had seen a failure of both the state and the private sector to establish low income housing. He said land was seen as an investment opportunity for the middle class, which was why a significant number of plots were left vacant after they had been bought. In addition, he said that national housing policies support the interests of property developers, who cater to the middle class and elites.
Siddiqui too criticised the mainstream belief that those living in katchi abadis were criminals and deserved to be evicted.
Awami National Party (ANP) Senator Afrasiab Khattak said the government’s failure to provide low income housing was a violation of the Constitution and of basic human rights. In addition, he stated that even though the CDA talked about legality, it had failed to go after those violating agro-farming regulations and housing authority regulations within Islamabad.
He said it was easy for the state to go after the vulnerable residents of katchi abadis, but it refused to go after politicians who violated housing regulations.
The speakers agreed that there needed to be short term and long term solutions put forward by the state with regards to katchi abadis. In the short term they said it was imperative that those evicted be resettled, and in the long term, that laws are drawn up regarding the provision of low income housing in Islamabad.
The seminar also featured firsthand accounts from katchi abadi residents.
A resident of the I-11 katchi abadi, which was demolished by the CDA on July 30, broke down as he explained that the katchi abadi was not populated by criminals and terrorists, despite government claims.
“The state says it has not mistreated us, but it has. No other country, not India or the United States (US), has wronged us the way the government has.”
The seminar took place a day after the Supreme Court criticised the CDA for the demolition of the I-11 katchi abadi. When asked why a court order against the demolition was not in place before July 30, Akhtar said the court had been petitioned long before the demolition, but that the Supreme Court chose to hear the petition after the eviction.
“We tried everything,” he said, “but it was quite clear at the time that there was some pressure from above… to ensure that this eviction was not stopped.”
Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2015