KARACHI: In late 2005, a meeting was called by the then commander V Corps, Lt Gen Syed Athar Ali Shah. Aside from a select group of officers in uniform who were present on the occasion, several officials from the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) had also been summoned. They included, among others, the then nazim Mustafa Kamal, municipal commissioner Lala Fazalur Rahman, as well as Bilal Manzar and Mazhar Khan of the katchi abadi and land departments.
According to a source present at the meeting, the CDGK officials were given a dressing-down because they were creating “problems” for the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Karachi, whose executive board is headed by the commander of the Karachi-based V Corps. “It was a typical case of the military authorities flexing their muscles to intimidate civilian officials,” said Adil Abbasi, former deputy director katchi abadi (planning) Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC).
The particular “problem” the military authorities wanted to address that day was the resistance that some KMC/CDGK officials had been putting up since 20 years against DHA Karachi’s demand to surrender land earmarked for the development of amenities for Qayyumabad — a katchi abadi situated along Korangi road near the KPT Flyover.
Corrupt provincial government officials from the higher bureaucracy with vested interests of their own had colluded to issue a notification acceding to DHA’s demand several months ago on Feb 2, 2005. (The Sindh government’s machinations whereby they obliged the military authorities are detailed later in this story.) But some local government officials were still holding out, unwilling to hand over possession of land that had been allocated for Qayyumabad’s amenities, and this was what had evidently prompted DHA Karachi to bring in the big guns.
The local elections in December last year, however, have spurred Qayyumabad residents to mount a fresh campaign to reclaim the land they say is rightfully theirs. Among them is Shamshad Khan, Qayyumabad union council’s newly elected UC nazim. Son of a veteran local politician, he and his father — as well as other residents of the area — have had run-ins with DHA officials in the past over the acres in contention, which is why DHA had never managed to actually take physical possession of the land. “On one occasion, I beat up [retired] Major Tatheer Abbas — a DHA official from its land department — when he’d arrived to knock down the graveyard wall,” said Mr Shamshad. “He ended up with 22 stitches.”
Confined within 109 acres, Qayyumabad katchi abadi is one of the most densely populated and polluted residential areas of the city. It is home to more than 70,000 people — including Pakhtun, Punjabi, Sindhi, Baloch and Urdu-speaking ethnicities, as well as Christians and scheduled caste Hindus — who live in cramped abodes no bigger than 80 square yards that jostle each other for space and have nowhere to expand except vertically. Consequently, illegal construction of multiple floors, with its attendant risks, is common. “As per standard town-planning principles, at less than six square yards per person, the dead in a DHA graveyard have more space than a person living in Qayyumabad,” remarked a former deputy director KMC. According to Mr Shamshad, “There isn’t a single public school here, nor a playground or dispensary”.
On the face of it, there seems little reason for this once marshy piece of land to have caused so much friction between DHA and KMC/CDGK authorities since the late ‘80s. There is no contiguity between the land allocated for Qayyumabad’s amenities and the rest of DHA that lies south of the katchi abadi. In fact, these 30 acres along with the built up area of Qayyumabad do not even fall within the eight DHA phases in District South; they are part of District Korangi. However, commercial developers have always viewed these 30 acres as potentially lucrative real estate. Their assessment is being borne out by the sky-high prices that plots carved out of this land command today.
Till the late 1960s, Qayyumabad was just another shantytown in Karachi’s south. But its population rapidly swelled between 1968 and 1976 when squatters from near Kala Pul were moved to this large stretch of water-logged land — that lay wedged between Korangi road, Malir River and Manzoor Colony nallah — on the orders of the government (commissioner Karachi) to make room for DHA phases I and II. Its impoverished residents provided unskilled labour for various sectors; for example, as coolies at the railway station, manual workers at the harbour, construction workers at the many upmarket residential localities springing up in the vicinity at the time, etc.
Through the years, the residents of Qayyumabad have consistently maintained that DHA has unlawfully grabbed 53.22 acres that are part of their locality, including 30.32 acres earmarked as amenity areas to serve their needs. However, their negligible political and financial clout puts them at a huge disadvantage in trying to establish their claim. They are, after all, up against DHA, the country’s most powerful land authority that provides real estate windfalls to the men in uniform while catering to the residential and commercial aspirations of the super-rich.
The saga began on Dec 6, 1979 when, in response to the defence ministry’s insatiable appetite for land, BoR Sindh (the original owner of all land in the province) allotted the Pakistan Defence Officers Cooperative Housing Society (PDOCHS) — the predecessor of DHA Karachi — 640 acres on a 99-year lease, parts of which were initially designated as DHA Phase IX but later became what is today known as Phase VII extension.
Four years later, on Jan 26, 1984, the defence ministry itself de-notified (excluded) the katchi abadis of upper Gizri, Machhi para and Qayyumabad from the limits of the Clifton Cantonment, insisting that the government of Sindh cater for them. Once the area reverted to BoR Sindh, the government of Sindh directed KMC to plan and provide for the needs of these katchi abadis.
A survey of Qayyumabad conducted by the relevant BoR officials, the results of which were later recorded on a map dated July 17, 1985, shows the area of Qayyumabad as being 163.18 acres. Once transferred to KMC, Qayyumabad became the responsibility of the katchi abadi department.
Subsequently, KMC developed a master plan for Qayyumabad over the area of 163.18 acres including 30.32 acres specified for amenities, and the settlement was notified under MLO 183 as a katchi abadi by the government on Nov 13, 1986. (Any settlement in Karachi existing from before March 23, 1985 qualifies to be regularised as a katchi abadi, which gives ownership rights to the residents and entitles them to municipal services.)
A detailed Qayyumabad katchi abadi layout plan was thus finalised by KMC and subsequently gazetted by the Sindh government. The map shows the contentious 30.32 acres reserved for amenities including a primary school, secondary school, hospital, college, graveyard and park, etc. Other pieces of land were designated for a Karachi Water and Sewage Board (KWSB) sump, a Karachi Electric Supply Corporation (KESC) substation, katchi abadi offices, etc.
The process was completed with due recourse to the public. A brief presented by KMC in a meeting on Jan 4, 2004, held under the chairmanship of the chief secretary Sindh with DHA officers attending, recalled that, “Before approval of layout plan … public objections were invited through leading newspapers but no objection on the planning of katchi abadi was filed by DHA or otherwise by any agency….”
Meanwhile DHA Karachi had come into existence through Presidential Order Number 7 of 1980 issued by Gen Ziaul Haq. In the late ‘80s, well after the defence ministry itself had excluded Qayyumabad from the limits of Clifton Cantonment, a certain retired major Humayun Butt became exceedingly active in the construction business. Very well connected, with several army generals among his extended family, the major managed to get the 30.32 acres declared as Humayun Commercial which also appears in DHA Karachi maps.
Over the next several years, DHA Karachi remained engaged in pressurising KMC to surrender the amenities. In one letter dated Nov 13, 2002, additional director land retired Lt Col Muhammad Younis wrote that “…the [53 acres] in question was wrongly notified as part of katchi abadi. Despite concerted efforts/repeated requests vis-à-vis clear directive of the chief secretary Govt of Sindh vide minutes of the conference held on 7-2-2001, denotification action has not yet been initiated”. The authority also made attempts to physically take over the land and even filed a case in the Sindh High Court arguing ‘incorrect’ de-notification (Suit No.586 of 1989).
BoR maintained that the contours of the area concerned were in consonance with the actual position of the Qayyumabad settlement on ground after the ministry of defence/Clifton Cantonment Board’s de-notification and that DHA had been well aware of the fact. According to documents available with Dawn, when the court ordered that a joint demarcation of Qayyumabad’s limits be carried out to resolve the matter, DHA officials did not show up, despite two summons to do so.
The minutes of a meeting held on May 21, 2001 record the then municipal commissioner KMC as pleading that not only was the KMC’s stance legally sound, but that there was also a moral imperative for ensuring amenities even for a katchi abadi. An excerpt from the document reads: “The legal position on limitation to challenge the notification issued in 1986 is 30 days…Qayyumabad colony is thickly populated and necessarily required (sic) this land for amenit[ies] proposed. It is almost impossible to avoid congestion and provide basic facilities of life without such provision.”
However, DHA was not moved. Its manipulation of facts can be seen in a letter dated Sep 6, 2002 and addressed to the Sindh government’s katchi abadi department, in which DHA said that when Qayyumabad was declared a katchi abadi in 1986, the area occupied by it “was actually 109.36 acres only”.
To support its claim, the aforementioned letter states the following: “The Survey of Pakistan map of 1989 is used as a base to establish the limit of the katchi abadi in 1989,” and that “the map sheets clearly show the layout of the katchi abadi in 1989.” Ironically, this statement by DHA is absolutely correct. But it is not the whole story.
Settlements like Qayyumabad are by their very nature ad hoc and disorganised. Their residents do not put down their roots in uniform 80-yard plots organised in a neat geometrical grid. According to the locals, as well as BoR and KMC records, prior to regularisation, inhabitants of the 163 acres known as Qayyumabad were haphazardly scattered across it, with many of them maintaining buffaloes on the open land as an additional means of income. It was only after the Sindh government declared the area a katchi abadi in 1986 and KMC re-organised it as per its layout plan, that the residents were moved into their allotted 80-yard plots over 109.36 acres, leaving vacant 53 acres where their amenities were slated for development and the remaining for the locality’s expansion. And that was where the Surveyor General of Pakistan found them in 1989.
In the entire saga, the most telling evidence of DHA’s ruthless pursuit of the land meant for Qayyumabad’s amenities is a map submitted on behalf of DHA and ostensibly developed by architects at Fareed Associates — a copy of which is in Dawn’s possession. The plotting of the then proposed DHA Phase XI can be seen on the map. The company’s ‘seal’ in the upper right hand corner carries the date Aug 30, 1977, indicating that DHA’s plotting of the area dates back to that year. The map also shows ‘Humayun Commercial’ located on the 30.32 acres, thereby evidently undermining BoR’s claims. However, that line of argument contains a massive factual error: the 640 acres of which these 30.32 acres are a part had not even been leased to the PDOCHS until Dec 6, 1979. “Also, our company seal is always in the bottom right corner, never in the upper right one”, claimed a former employee of the firm, which is now largely inactive.
On the bottom right of the map can be seen two signatures, that of retired Lt Col Ali Bin Ahmad and former commissioner Karachi M.M. Usmani — ostensibly to lend legitimacy to the document. According to Mr Fareed, the owner of the firm, it was much later that his company had actually developed the layout plan for the 640 acres and in it, he said, they excluded the entire area of Qayyumabad katchi abadi, including the portion later claimed as Humayun Commercial.
A senior architect for the firm claims that Major Humayun was so sure that DHA would prevail over the civilian authorities that he had already started selling plots in ‘Humayun Commercial’ as soon as DHA Karachi began sparring with KMC over the ownership of the land.
While responding to Dawn, retired Lt Colonel Jamshed Niazi, director land DHA, pointed out that most of the 640 acres allotted to DHA by BoR Sindh in 1979 were lost due to the construction of the Malir River bund (embankment) in the mid ‘80s. He also reiterated that in response to the defence ministry’s denotification of Qayyumabad katchi abadi from Clifton Cantonment limits, BoR erroneously declared 163.18 acres as katchi abadi, all of which left only about 60 acres for DHA. “Even the commissioner Karachi in a letter indicated that DHA was left with only 60 acres.” He did however concede that 282 acres were later allotted in lieu of land lost when the Malir River was channelised.
An examination of the original lease for the 640 acres, which was signed on Dec 6, 1979 between the Sindh government and the PDOCHS — DHA’s forerunner — belies the military authorities’ stance from a legal point of view. According to sub clauses b and c of Clause 12, only 50pc of the 640 acres, ie 320 acres, exploited for residential and commercial plots was to be retained for allotment to officers of defence services with an equal number of plots to be allotted by PDOCHS to civilian officers of the Sindh government. Instead, plots on less than 12 acres were finally allotted to them by DHA, in a section of land later named Commissioner’s Society that was wedged between the Malir River, the graveyard and the katchi abadi’s eastern end.
(“The location, between the graveyard and the katchi abadi, was so bad that almost as soon as I was allotted a plot there, I sold it,” said a Sindh government official. “For the same reason, the plots in that area fetched far lower prices than the rest of DHA Phase VII extension.” However, Mr Niazi maintained that “DHA compensated Sindh government officials within the 282 acres later allotted to the Authority.”)
Thus, according to DHA’s own admission, it acquired 342 acres (60 plus 282 acres). Out of this, 12 acres were given for plots for civilian officials, thereby retaining 330 acres in the name of plots for officers of the defence services. That was already more than what constituted its share of 640 acres.
Incidentally, it is also far more than what DHA Karachi is legally entitled to. Documents submitted to the Supreme Court in the ongoing ‘Karachi unrest’ case 16/2011 by the office of the deputy commissioner South, state that “DHA possesses 5,257 acres excess Sindh government land without any allotment/payment”.
Asked about the need for so much land, DHA Administrator Brigadier Zubair Ahmed explained that previously DHA did not have a laid down policy for allotments, but during Gen Musharraf’s tenure a comprehensive policy was formulated for the provision of plots to officers after every so many years of service, seniority and sacrifice. Previously there was no provision for allotment of plots for lower ranks but it was felt that even non-commissioned men who had rendered sacrifices must be compensated, which drove up the increase in demand for land several fold.
Through the years, DHA continued to insist on its ‘right’ to Qayyumabad’s amenities land along Korangi road as well as a small piece of land set aside to accommodate the future expansion of the community.
Although for the last 20 years Qayyumabad residents have doggedly resisted DHA’s efforts to take physical possession of the land, KMC was unable — due to pressure from DHA Karachi — to develop the amenities it had budgeted for and which Qayyumabad was entitled to as a regularised locality. It could not give land to KESC for its substation, or to KWSB for its sump to supply water to ease the residents’ hardships. Shahid, a young resident of the locality, said bitterly: “When you don’t have water you simply buy it from tankers. But we can’t afford more than jerrycans sold here on donkey carts. That limited water is usually consumed for cooking purposes and by the women for their needs.”
After Gen Musharraf’s military government took over in 1999, DHA redoubled its efforts to coerce BoR into de-notifying the 53 acres it coveted. As if that were not enough, Sindh government officials claim that the corps commander’s brother, Syed Ghazanfar Ali Shah, was also very well received at BoR itself. “Earlier we kept resisting DHA, but what could we do when such influential people began to exercise their clout?” asked a dejected KMC official.
Land grabs — whether by individuals or organisations — are always carried out in complicity with government functionaries in positions of opportunity. The case of Qayyumabad katchi abadi’s land too is no different. The defence authorities’ arm-twisting finally bore fruit in 2004 at the hands of unscrupulous public officials.
The secretary GA&C Aijaz Hussain Kazi, acting under instructions from the chief secretary Sindh, initiated a summary (diary number 411 and dated Oct 23, 2004) for approval by chief minister Arbab Rahim, for local government “to re-notify Qayyumabad katchi abadi over 109.36 acres”. This effectively meant surrendering 53.22 acres to DHA Karachi.
The summary was received the same day and listed at number 6005 on the additional chief secretary local government’s inward register. “Sensing opposition from the local government department, the summary was swiftly withdrawn by the CS office,” revealed a retired secretary to the government of Sindh.
Later, a similar summary bearing exactly the same number was re-drafted and sent by the chief secretary’s office directly to the chief minister in sheer violation of rules of business, ie bypassing the administrative (local government) department input. Instead, after approval by the chief minister, the summary was sent to Waseem Akhtar, then MQM’s minister for local government (and current nominee for mayor), for implementation by his department.
Given this fait accompli, the Sindh Katchi Abadi Authority re-notified the limits of Qayyumabad on Feb 2, 2005, reducing it to 109.36 acres. This, despite the fact that the amenities had been planned and notified 18 years earlier by the Sindh government’s Housing Town Planning, Local Government & Rural Development Department on Nov 13, 1986 and gazetted by the Sindh government on Feb 12, 1987.
According to KMC officials, the duplicitous manner in which the land was surrendered suggests it was not just the pressure exerted by the men in khaki, but that individuals in the higher echelons of the Sindh government were adequately compensated through allotment of plots in the area.
Interestingly, the ministry of defence’s original pretext while requesting allotment of land in Karachi was that it was required “for the benefit of the widows and children of the shuhada”, which later evolved into “for the benefit of officers of the defence forces who have little or no other means to put a roof over their heads”. However, according to a former member land utilisation, BoR Sindh, the allotees of the Qayyumabad amenities land are all well-known commercial developers and investors with deep pockets.
Here it is pertinent to note that as per law, a piece of land once declared as an amenity not only cannot be put to commercial or residential use, it cannot even be used as another kind of amenity than the one specified.
In a cruel irony, the numbers assigned to ‘Humayun Commercial’ plots — land that rightfully belongs to Qayyumabad katchi abadi — were re-designated and prefaced with the letters ‘QK’ during Mr Athar Ali’s tenure as corps commander. As things stand today, the amenities’ land has all been allotted and continues to change hands at the DHA Karachi office.
Moreover, some of the allottees, as per documents available with Dawn, have paid a mere Rs 4,000 per square yard to DHA Karachi for these commercial plots that are today being traded at Rs200,000 per sq yard — which adds up to an eye-watering one billion rupees an acre. To put things in perspective, consider this: DHA Karachi charges Rs16,000 per square yard as development charges alone in DHA Phase VIII from an ordinary allottee of 1987. Another example: DHA Karachi has charged Rs 120,000 per square yard for commercialisation of residential plots near Do Darya in Phase VIII.
Meanwhile, not far from where the elite of the city live in luxurious residences, where their children attend expensive private schools and have access to landscaped neighbourhood parks, the chance that the residents of Qayyumabad will get the spaces for their amenities back seems slimmer than ever. As if to drive the point home, DHA Karachi has erected a wall that runs approximately 5,000 feet along the periphery of the katchi abadi, separating it from the rest of DHA, cleaving the haves from the have-nots.
When asked about the Qayyumabad residents’ right to amenities, DHA Administrator Brigadier Zubair Ahmed said: “I agree on a humane level that every locality should have amenities.” He further added: “If the Sindh government says it’s not DHA land but belongs to the katchi abadi people, then we will change our stance. Until they say that, I as administrator DHA cannot surrender this land because I’m custodian of DHA’s interests and what has been given to us officially, I need to defend it until the time it is modified.”
However, some months ago, reportedly as a result of pressure by the army chief, the illegal allotment of 530 acres of mangrove forest along Gizri Creek — whose ultimate beneficiary was DHA — was cancelled after an expose in Dawn. Can Qayyumabad’s residents expect the authorities to take note of their legitimate expectations to a reasonable quality of life as citizens of Karachi?
Header photo by Fahim Siddiqi