ILLEGAL housing societies are a virus that infects all parts of Pakistan. Crumbling mechanisms of governance have emboldened rapacious elements and fuelled an ugly, and frequently violent, land-grabbing industry. Last October, a report furnished before a Supreme Court bench revealed that 5,492 housing societies in the country are unregistered, illegal or exist only on paper. On Friday, an audit report presented in the National Assembly noted that the Capital Development Authority in Islamabad had suffered a loss of Rs5,217.39bn on account of 109 illegal housing schemes in the ICT. The document was scathing in its criticism of the CDA saying it had allowed the area to become a haven for the land mafia and that it may as well change its master plan in an explicit acknowledgement of its inability to enforce land regulations. Even the upscale Banigala neighbourhood, in which prime minister’s 300-kanal estate is located, has been developed in violation of the city’s master plan.
Illegal housing societies and encroachments have been the subject of several recent court proceedings. The mighty Bahria Town has not been spared either. That can only be to the good of the citizens. Many of them, swayed by marketing gimmicks that promise a ‘Dubai-style’ standard of living, invest their hard-earned savings in such housing schemes only to find that they have been duped by unscrupulous builders in terms of construction quality and amenities. At times the location itself, such as on a floodplain or on reclaimed areas of natural channels, puts residents at peril. A burgeoning population has led to a surge in demand for housing; construction is a hugely lucrative business and profits can be multiplied hundred-fold if land is obtained without requisite payment of fees and taxes, or without obtaining NOCs, in collusion with corrupt bureaucrats. The state exchequer remains dry even as the pockets of builders and their cohorts overflow with ill-gotten gains. There must be no leniency shown by the courts to those involved in this plunder.
Published in Dawn, February 27th, 2019