CDA’s drive against businesses in homes ‘unconvincing’

Nov 10 2015


Many outlets that had been operating in residential areas have started moving to commercial centres in Islamabad. The other picture shows a notice pasted on the door of an outlet, announcing that it has been sealed. — Photos by Khurram Amin
Many outlets that had been operating in residential areas have started moving to commercial centres in Islamabad. The other picture shows a notice pasted on the door of an outlet, announcing that it has been sealed. — Photos by Khurram Amin

ISLAMABAD: The Capital Development Authority (CDA)’s ongoing drive against business outlets operating in residential areas has still not won over everyone.

Many observers are still waiting to see if the CDA is sincere; and so far, their scepticism does not seem misplaced as the drive appears to have slowed down.

On Oct 7, in one go, CDA sealed 23 houses. Six days later, raiding teams sealed another 13 houses and the number had reached 49 by Oct 19. However, during the last two weeks, a mere six houses were sealed.

So far, the authority has sealed 55 outlets, though an official from the CDA building department told Dawn there were around 2,000 commercial outlets in the city.

How it all began

The process of sealing premises over non-conforming use began on Oct 9, when the first notice delivered a 10-day warning. The CDA issued a final warning to all commercial ventures operating in residential areas on Oct 21, 2015.

The warning, advertised through newspapers, warned that residential properties being used for commercial purposes would be placed in the category of non-conforming use.

CDA officers say uprooting embassies, schools, govt depts will be ‘real challenge’

CDA warned owners or operators of guest houses, schools, offices, showrooms, restaurants, boutiques and clinics etc to vacate residential buildings immediately.

“Failing which, the CDA will be constrained to cancel the allotment of the property besides sealing the premises and imposing fines,” the CDA warning read.

To involve the general public, CDA also launched a complaint page on its website, inviting citizens to complain against the use of residential units for commercial activities.

To get their properties unsealed, owners are required to pay a fine as well as file affidavits, committing that the properties will no longer be used for commercial activities.

So far, owners of only five sealed outlets have approached the civic authority for a change of decision.

“We are receiving no serious resistance. Violators have started moving towards commercial areas,” the officer said.

Are shops moving out of houses?

Some of the sealed outlets are gearing up to move out.

“Our shop has been shifted to Centaurus Mall,” said an employee of Afghan Carpets, who was sitting in front of a sealed-residential building in F-7 Markaz.

However, Afghan Carpets has always had an outlet in the mall. The shop did not open after the sealing of their first outlet.

Another businessman, Bilal Badshah, whose boutique in F-7 was closed down, said that he wanted to shift his outlet to sector E-11, but CDA was not allowing him to remove items from the sealed premises without paying the fine.

Zahid Sultan, director of CDA’s Building Control section, denied the impression that the operation had slowed down, arguing that it was being carried out in phases. He said that roughly 100 outlets had voluntarily closed down commercial activities.

Outside the sealed Junaid Jamshed outlet, which had been running out of a house opposite Jinnah Super Market in F-7, a banner was displayed, stating “In compliance of Supreme Court Order. This is a residential property. There is now, no non-confirming use of this building.”

The Junaid Jamshid outlet is also moving to Centaurus Mall.

Gul Nawaz Khan, an employee of the sealed KC Grill, said that his employer is looking for new premises in commercial areas.

“This is to inform you that Karam Lebanon restaurant and bakery will be opening soon in another venue,” read a public notice on the website of the restaurant, which had been operating in F-7/1.

However, what is not clear is whether any of the sealed outlets have acquired new, commercial premises. To give them the benefit of the doubt, it takes time to find a location and renovate it accordingly.

Commercial space to go around?

CDA officials claim that the commercial centres in the capital have sufficient space to accommodate all the business outlets operating in residential areas. They say that the federal government has given the city’s managers a free hand to go after violators.

Deputy Director Mohammad Shafi Marwat, who is part of the operation against non-conforming use, said that all businesses that were operating out of residential areas could easily find space in various commercial areas, including Blue Area.

“In nearly all markaz centres, including Blue Area, over 10 per cent of offices and shops are vacant,” he said.

Turning a blind eye

While shops and restaurants in up-market centres such as F-6, F-7 and F-8 have been targeted by CDA, others seem to have escaped the censure.

“Schools and medical centres will be the last in the list, but eventually action needs to be taken in this regard too,” said CDA spokesman Ramzan Sajid.

But CDA also seems to be ignoring offices, especially those of government departments.

“There are two kinds of government offices; the ones that operate with their names or boards publicly displayed and those who display no signature marks. However, forcing any of them to leave residential places is difficult for CDA,” a senior official of the civic body told Dawn.

He also conceded that: “What can we do about private offices, including NGOs, embassies and media outlets? All of them have been told by the administration and the police not to move to commercial areas.”

In fact, many CDA officers, on condition of anonymity, say that the real test case will be moving government offices, embassies and educational institutions. Currently, over 300 educational institutions and over one dozen embassies operate in residential areas.

In addition, the ruling Pakistan Muslim League, Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf, Jamaat-i-Islami, Pakistan Peoples Party and Pakistan Muslim League-Quaid also have their offices in residential areas; these offices also fall in the category of non-confirming use of residential buildings, as do offices of media outlets.

When asked whether or not the CDA will seal offices of political parties, government departments and embassies, Mr Sajid avoided a clear answer, saying only, “We are conducting an across-the-board operation”. —Additional reporting by Kalbe Ali

Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2015