A CASE under way in the Supreme Court has cast light on the rapid growth of Defence Housing Authorities across Punjab and certain accompanying irregularities.

The growth of DHAs, housing societies meant for military officers, in Lahore, Rawalpindi, Bahawalpur and Gujranwala, has developed along two lines.

One is the growth in actual size, and the second is the increase in the powers the authorities have picked up over the years, particularly during military rule.

Over the years, the upscale property developer of the Pakistan Army, which says it works for the “families of martyrs”, has acquired land sometimes in a questionable manner; at other places, it has obtained land that was earmarked for development projects meant to serve the civilian population.

This acquisition has taken place on such a large scale that it has invited scathing comments from the bench.

Also read: SC asks Lahore DHA to explain expansion

Meanwhile, the Punjab government appears to have remained more or less a passive observer of the entire process.

The provincial government has a large role to play in land acquisition and relevant approvals for subsequent development.

In Rawalpindi, for instance, provincial government functionaries did try to object to the grant of land on which the DHA is built. They argued that it was marked for a dam, but were unable to mount any serious challenge to the army’s bid to obtain the land for its property developer.

In other provinces, the sheer scale of growth of DHAs in the cities has inevitably constricted the supply of land that could be used for more affordable housing needed by the larger population. The Punjab government is either too powerless to regulate the pace and direction of land acquisition by this powerful property developer, or too timid to take a stand.

The result is a mushrooming growth of elite housing societies — while affordable housing lags far behind the numbers required for a growing population. It is all the more distressing to see this phenomenon unfold against the backdrop of what the army high command has described as an “existential war” that the country is waging against extremist militant groups.

The government in Punjab has no excuse to dither endlessly as large tracts of land are gobbled up for more speculative investment and servicing elite needs. Apart from taking action to curb this trend, it must announce an even more ambitious plan for allocating land for affordable housing to meet the needs of its citizens.

Published in Dawn, September 4th, 2015

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