HYDERABAD: The landscape in katchi abadis that form 60 per cent of Cantonment Board Hyderabad (CBH) is dotted with colourful flags of candidates, mostly associated with different political parties, but those to be elected on Sept 12 would not be able to represent their electorates effectively as legitimacy eludes the areas they seek to represent.

Insanitation, filth, illegal constructions and lack of planning remain hallmark of these abadis. Some known and old katchi abadis include Gharibabad, Kumhar Para, Mumtaz Colony, Shah Faisal Colony, Jinnah Colony in Unit-12 of Latifabad etc, that fall within the CBH jurisdiction.

It is for the second time that the CBH elections would be held on party-basis on Sept 12 after 2015.

Out of the 10 CBH wards, six wards including ward 1, 6, 7, 8, 9 and 10 cover katchi abadis that do not qualify for getting any sort of civic amenities.

The CBH used to have just four wards, but following delimitations, more wards were created in 2015, raising them from four to 10.

A representative of one of the katchi abadis in the CBH, Abdul Rasheed from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement-Pakistan (MQM-P), interestingly though, became vice president of the CBH which is a coveted slot for an elected councillor. The CBH is presided over by a senior-level uniformed officer as president under law.

These abadis are mostly located on military-owned land. Communities that speak different languages live there. Those who migrated from India after partition also settled there and successive governments did not take any initiative for improving conditions and bringing them into regulatory framework. People from middle, lower and upper-middle classes are living there in fairly large numbers.

Katchi abadis were notified under Martial Law Order during the Zia regime after a cut-off date of 1985. Those meeting cut-off date were to be dealt with by municipal corporation and post-1985 by Katchi Abadis Authority of the Sindh government.

“Some [katchi abadis] are literally slums. They are not under our regulatory framework. Residents of these areas don’t pay a single penny to us as taxes,” says a CBH official. “Admittedly, something can be done to bring these katchi abadis into tax net and in lieu of it, CBH’s services can be extended to them”, admits another board officer while requesting anonymity.

The CBH is an A-class board with 100,000 population. Each CBH ward is divided with a 10,000 population which means over 60pc population is living in CBH’s katchi abadis that are under no framework from CBH’s municipal services point of view. “The CBH doesn’t recover tax from these areas although demands of residents for provision of services are unending,” adds an official.

The CBH generates its own income through conservancy, property and other taxes which are mainly recovered from four wards that cover two phases of Defence, Civil Lines, Saddar and their commercial areas, properties and markets. CBH’s overall budgetary outlay is around Rs350m inclusive salary expenditures.

“We get proposals from all elected members for carrying out development works and given our fiscal space we carry out those works on priority basis. Their main issue is of documentation of their properties in the shape of leases which needs a policy decision,” says CBH chief executive officer (CEO) Zaki Hyder. Insofar as katchi abadis are concerned, he adds, they have their issues. “We try to serve them as much as we can,” he remarks.

In the outgoing elected board members from taxpaying areas often objected to some works executed on the request of katchi abadis’ representatives on the ground that CBH’s funds could not be spent in non-taxpaying area. Levy of conservancy tax of Rs200 for commercial properties in these abadis was discussed, but not given effect.

The CBH had established filtration plants for residents in these abadis to facilitate residents. Interestingly, the CBH itself gets water supply through the Water and Sanitation Agency (Wasa)-run system. The CBH had established a dispensary each in Shah Faisal and Jinnah colonies. But Shah Faisal Colony dispensary has been closed and converted into a skill development centre for women while Jinnah Colony’s dispensary is yet to become functional.

“Usually, development works are carried out by different provincial or National assembly members whose constituencies also cover our areas,” says Mohammad Aslam, resident of one of the katchi abadis of the CBH. “The brick pavement work was done by an MPA,” he adds.

Dwellers of these abadis do not have proprietary rights — their major concern — as the CBH does not allow them leases. Some leases were done in mid- or late 80s for 30 years. “This lease document is issued in the name of my mother,” says Hamid, a resident of Mumtaz Colony. The document bears date of Aug 1987 and plain reading of the text of document shows that it stands expired after 30 years though renewable for 99 years.

“Some leases were issued in 80s by the CBH. But then the federal government stopped issuing leases,” according to one officer. “I think if the government decides to issue leases to them, it can generate considerable income to the board and then we can start levying certain taxes by offering some amenities,” he says.

It was learnt that some proposal was submitted in the past to the defence ministry that governs boards in the country. But no progress was seen or perhaps the federal government has not considered it seriously.

Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2021

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