Land scams

May 17, 2020

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THE investigation into the fraudulent Fazaia Housing Scheme in Karachi seems to be picking up pace. On Thursday, the accountability court’s administrative judge was informed that the NAB chairman had signed the reference with regard to the probe. The matter involves builders in connivance with certain PAF officials allegedly defrauding over 5,700 people to the tune of Rs18.2bn received as payment for units in the illegal housing scheme. Two builders were arrested late last year after a deluge of complaints by the investors, mainly oversees Pakistanis, emerged in the public domain. According to the probe, the suspects had entered into an agreement with the PAF and jointly launched a housing project in March 2015 to be developed, they claimed, over 400 acres in Malir district.

The inquiry into the fraudulent housing scheme represents merely the tip of the iceberg in a cesspool of similar scams in Karachi. The undeveloped acres of Malir district, once the city’s green belt, have been ravaged in the last few years by builders backed by patrons in the corridors of power. Local administrations and police are also vital cogs in the wheel, and provide the muscle to strong-arm indigenous communities into surrendering their land for housing schemes. More recently, the loot and plunder has extended further into adjoining Jamshoro district. The insatiable demand for housing by residents of an expanding metropolis creates a huge market — and the potential for eye-watering illegal profits procured through stealing public land. In the process, the coffers of land development authorities are deprived of revenue while avaricious bureaucrats make money hand over fist. Consider that while the Bahria Town Karachi scam was being rolled out over 25,000 plus acres in Malir, the Malir Development Authority did not have enough funds to pay salaries to its employees. Interestingly, even where fraudulent schemes are concerned, the paperwork is often duly filed, but upon a closer look one finds that rules and regulations have been blatantly flouted, and procedures bypassed. At the receiving end is a public misled by slick advertising campaigns that promise a sound investment and a home of one’s own. From time to time, often at the prodding of a superior court order, ‘oversight’ authorities will announce action against illegal housing schemes. However, only the certainty of punitive consequences can deter unscrupulous builders and their accomplices from their nefarious designs. That has yet to happen.

Published in Dawn, May 17th, 2020