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Illegal land use

January 28, 2019

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ALL sections of the power elite are not equal. It was therefore all the more unexpected when on Thursday, at the Karachi’s Supreme Court registry, Justice Gulzar Ahmed demanded answers to certain questions that many dare not articulate, at least in public. This spectacle occurred before a two-judge bench during the hearing of a case pertaining to illegal construction in the city. The judge wanted to know why the armed forces and the Civil Aviation Authority were running wedding halls and cinemas, asking whether it was their job to do so. Driving home his point about the security risks inherent in such ventures, he assailed the existence of wedding halls in the vicinity of the Karachi airport, which was the target of a major terrorist attack in 2014, and the Central Ordnance Depot. He also ordered the wedding hall inside Askari Park to be demolished immediately and the land restored to its intended use.

In a predatory state, the levers of power are concentrated in a few hands, both elected and unelected; a supporting cast of corrupt civil bureaucrats, unscrupulous businessmen, police and local strongmen enables them and maintains the status quo. In this unequal hierarchy, the less privileged live in a state of perpetual insecurity. A recent, particularly harrowing illustration of this was the anti-encroachment drive in Karachi where thousands found their decades-old means of livelihood destroyed. A far bigger travesty than small-time traders trying to make a living in a city that has not provided them the means to do so strictly by the book are the actions by the well connected who derive illegal profits from Karachi’s real estate. Using land legally entails it being employed for the purpose for which it was allotted. Yet we see umpteenth examples of ‘china cutting’, of amenity plots swallowed up by shopping malls and wedding halls, land demarcated for sewerage plants taken over by residential colonies, etc. There must be a reckoning for those involved in such large-scale violation of land-use regulations.

Published in Dawn, January 28th, 2019