THE story of illegal housing schemes in Pakistan is one of untrammeled greed facilitated by a hollowed-out system of governance. All over the country, political bigwigs and members of the establishment in cahoots with a rotten-to-the-core land bureaucracy are making fortunes on the backs of ordinary citizens looking for a return on their hard-earned savings, or simply, a home to call their own. The police, as well as unsavoury operatives on the ground, provide the muscle for this ruthless land-grabbing industry that is a known catalyst for urban violence. While it is too early to speculate on the merits of the case, it has come to light that NAB’s Karachi chapter has requested its chairman to launch a fresh inquiry into the Fazaia Housing Scheme in the city for allegedly defrauding 6,000 people who have invested in the project. The amount involved, says NAB, is Rs13bn. This is not the first time that the housing scheme has popped up on its radar. Back in March 2018, an inquiry had been initiated into allegations that land had been illegally provided to its management for developing the project. Not surprisingly, that investigation went nowhere.
In October 2018, the scale of the problem of shady housing schemes was highlighted by a Supreme Court-ordered forensic audit that found an astonishing 5,492 such projects in Pakistan to be illegal, unregistered, or existing only on paper. The number of registered or licensed housing schemes stood at 3,432. In such a system, only unscrupulous individuals prosper. When revenue officials collude with the power elite, their services are rewarded with ‘files’ for plots, but the land development authorities themselves are deprived of revenue they are entitled to through development charges, fees, etc. In February this year, 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. Similarly, while Malir Development Authority officials conspired with Bahria Town Ltd to illegally exchange and consolidate land for its project in Karachi, MDA’s own finances were running so low that it could not afford to pay salaries to its employees.
Indeed, so entrenched is the corruption that often when it appears that action is being taken against land scams, it is actually retaliation against perceived reluctance to fall in line with the land mafia’s designs. An investigation by this paper a few months ago uncovered that a prominent feudal, unwilling to allow the ingress of multiple private housing schemes inside Jamshoro district — part of his ‘fiefdom’ — was chastened when illegal housing societies in which he himself is believed to have a stake were bulldozed by the provincial building control authority. Even among those with clout, real estate interests trump traditional centres of power. These Augean stables must be cleaned.
Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2019