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ISLAMABAD: The Capital Development Authority (CDA)’s move to link new utility connections with no-objection certificates (NOC) in order to discourage illegal construction has ended up causing problems for rural residents, since the authority has not introduced a mechanism through with these NOCs can be issued.

Last year, the CDA announced that Sui Northern Gas Pipelines (SNGPL) and the Islamabad Electric Supply Company would not provide utility connections to new buildings that do now have NOCs from the CDA.

This decision was apparently geared at preventing illegal construction in the rural areas, where the authority has not imposed its building by-laws and left builders and locals free to construct at will.

After imposing the ban, the CDA announced that NOCs would be issued to commercial and home builders who get their building plans approved by the authority.

Last year, authority linked new utility connections with NOCs but has no mechanism for them

The ban was criticised by locals at the time and at several Metropolitan Corporation Islamabad sessions, by members from the either side of the aisle.

“The rationale behind the ban was good,” said a CDA official who asked not to be named. “There should be no construction without the approval of building plans. Unfortunately, we linked new utility connections with our NOCs but we have no mechanism to issue NOCs.”

The CDA is regulating buildings – approving building plans for construction – in urban areas, he said, but “we have no idea how to proceed” in rural areas.

According to the 2017 census, the population of Islamabad’s rural areas is nearly equal to that of its urban areas.

Until last year, the CDA had never tried to implement its by-laws in rural areas and instead stuck to Islamabad’s planned sectors. Now, the authority is unable to move beyond them.

During a visit to the CDA on Wednesday, Dawn met an official from the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) who said he had been visiting various offices trying to have a building plan approved.

“I visited the CDA a few years ago, before the construction of my house, and asked the concerned officers to approve my building plan, but at the time they said the CDA could not approve building plans from rural areas,” he said.

“I completed construction on my house last year, but now SNGPL refuses to provide a gas connection without a CDA NOC, and CDA officers say they cannot issue an NOC without a policy decision.”

Pointing to the FIA official, a CDA officer remarked that if an individual from a powerful investigation agency was running from pillar to post, “imagine what the condition of a layman would be while visiting the CDA for an NOC”.

The officer added that the decision to impose the ban was made without any background work, and had put people who wish to build in the rural areas in a difficult position.

CDA officials Dawn spoke to said the Supreme Court and high court had endorsed the ban and a few months ago, the Islamabad High Court barred the CDA from regulating houses until a commission is formed to recommend changes to the master plan.

“This issue is not going to be resolved until a commission is notified by the federal government to recommend changes to the master plan, it seems,” an officer said.

CDA spokesperson Safdar Shah said efforts are underway to make new rules to resolve this matter, but added: “Until new rules are framed and approved we cannot regulate buildings in rural areas.”

PTI’s candidate for NA-53, Ali Awan, criticised the CDA for imposing the ban without an alternative solution and said people were facing difficulties constructing on their own land because of the decision.

“On the one hand, the CDA has failed to develop new sectors in the last 25 years, and on the other it has imposed a ban on new homes in rural areas,” he said.

Although his party is against illegal construction, he said, the way the CDA has handled the issue was condemnable.

“We will resolve this issue amicably. If new rules need to be made, we will frame new rules as well,” he said.

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2018