Shattered dreams

Jun 29 2020


The writer is a former civil servant.
The writer is a former civil servant.

LEGEND has it that thousands of years ago, human beings had very long lifespans and lived for hundreds of years. A sage of those times was telling his disciples that there would come a time when people would not live that long and the average lifespan would be less than even 100 years.

An old lady interjected, “Then surely those people would not build any houses at all; why build a house for such a short span?” The sage smiled, “They would make the strongest of houses; expensive, lavish and elaborate.” And, he added, “they would not mind going to any extent to do that”. Neither the woman nor the sage lived long enough to see those times, but they are well and truly here.

When everyone was busy worrying about the outcome of the coronavirus, 13 federal secretaries, including some retired ones got themselves plots in the most developed and beautiful sector D-12 right at the foot of the Margalla Hills of Islamabad — even though the regulations clearly state that any new plots emerging in already developed CDA (Capital Development Authority) sectors must be auctioned to earn maximum revenue.

Had these plots been auctioned, the average sale price would be at least Rs50 million for each. That is not the only problem here. In 2007, then president Musharraf, to win over the civilian bureaucracy, introduced a perk for federal secretaries to receive a plot in addition to their normal service benefit plot, which means at least two residential plots in the federal capital. This policy in itself is controversial, contentious and discriminatory.

The CDA could earn billions by initiating the process of regularisation.

Even in these uncertain times, the secretaries benefited themselves instead of getting their act together to question the failure of the CDA to develop sectors G-14, E-12, I-15 and many more despite getting development charges from the allottees decades ago. So much so that 1,400 out of 4,200 allottees of E-12 have passed away without getting anything.

Such loot and plunder has happened too often right under the nose of the prime minister to give him the benefit of the doubt that he is not aware of it. In cricketing parlance, it seems to be a case of LBW— loot before watchman.

When it comes to himself, everything falls into place. The prime minister’s Banigala residence had been found to be illegal. It will be regularised in one way or the other and the time it takes does not really seem to bother him as he continues to occupy the property. However, since the court verdict almost three years ago declaring the construction in Banigala and other similarly classified areas illegal till they are regularised, all construction has stopped on buildings in these zones. Some buildings were complete, others were near completion, and people had invested millions and the CDA had no objection.

Mr Saqib Nisar, then chief justice of the Supreme Court, took notice of the construction in Banigala on Prime Minister Imran Khan’s application. It would seem that Mr Khan was not in favour of poor people building their humble abodes in the vicinity.

Since then, while he continues to enjoy his dream mansion, the general public in the vicinity suffers every day as they cannot sell their property and are even denied basic amenities. Does the prime minister know that no new gas or electricity connection has been provided to any house in the Banigala area for the last three years?

Imagine if the CDA had sealed his residence until it had been given proper legal approval. He might have survived given his experience of living in a container or having the right connections, but imagine the same happening to someone who has invested all his savings in his dream house. The cabinet gladly clubbed the fate of these cases with the approval of the revised master plan of the city as the delay does not bother any of the privileged individuals sitting in the cabinet. The CDA takes a long time to perform even little tasks like fixing a streetlight, so one can very well imagine how long something as big as formulating a new revised master plan for the city would take. Will the fate of thousands of people having a stake in plots or high-rise buildings in Banigala, E-11, the Islamabad Expressway and other zones hang in the balance till then?

The CDA could earn billions in fees and other charges by initiating the process of regularisation on an urgent basis. This would not only generate revenue but would also ease the pain of the general public. But it seems that to those in power or with influence, the woes of the general public do not matter — after all, what can be more urgent than the allotment of their own plots? The PTI-led government is turning out to be a tale of too many shattered dreams.

The writer is a former civil servant.

Twitter: @SyedSaadat55

Published in Dawn, June 29th, 2020