OVER the years, Karachi’s precious real estate has become a happy hunting ground for unscrupulous builders, enabled by corrupt political bigwigs and a bureaucracy that acts as the latter’s handmaiden.

Two more land scams are now in the spotlight.

On Wednesday, NAB informed an accountability court about the fraudulent manner in which land was allegedly acquired in the name of “shuhada” by certain builders and PAF officials for the Fazaia Housing Scheme in Karachi. Further, it said, of 8,400 units, only 30 were allotted to families of martyred air force personnel. The accused are believed to have collected Rs18.2bn under the heads of various fees, surcharges, etc — no doubt to be shared amongst all the players, those on the front line as well as in the power centres that ensure impunity for such crimes.

NAB has also filed a reference against Malik Riaz, the owner of Bahria Town, and several others — including politicians and bureaucrats — for illegal allotment of an amenity plot in Karachi’s Clifton area on which a portion of the Icon Tower project is located.

It will be interesting to see how both cases unfold, given they involve individuals with connections in the ‘right’ places.

Bahria Town’s land acquisition and development practices in multiple projects were declared illegal by the Supreme Court in May 2018. In March last year, the apex court accepted its offer to pay Rs460bn over seven years in land settlement charges for its massive housing scheme in Karachi.

However, it ordered NAB to refrain from filing references against those involved in that scam of unprecedented proportions: the reference in the Icon Tower case — said to be a Rs100bn scam — is the first such action against Mr Riaz.

Among the flagrant illegalities in the free-for-all that characterises the dealing in Sindh government land is the handing over of amenity plots to private developers for commercial/residential use.

In other words, the people’s right to civic facilities has been sold down the river by officialdom for its own pecuniary benefit.

Certainly, there is a dire need for housing in the mega city of Karachi, but it can be met lawfully — except that would level the playing field, and cut into the eye-watering profits enjoyed by the land mafia.

Aside from the illegality itself, using the pretext of providing for the families of war heroes in order to amass personal fortunes is a cynical ploy that deserves to be roundly condemned, not least because it dishonours the sacrifice of those who have fallen in the line of duty. The individuals behind the Fazaia scheme are not the first to have taken this route.

At the losing end of these shenanigans is the unsuspecting public. Until exemplary punishment is meted out to those involved, the people in their legitimate quest for a long-term asset, and a house to call their own, will continue to suffer.

Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2020

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