KARACHI: While the federal government is encouraging people to generate power through alternative energy sources to cut dependence on costly fuel, the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) has sent notices and imposed financial penalties on many of its residents for “violation” of its building control regulations by installing solar panels on their rooftops to generate electricity, it emerged on Friday.
Earlier this month, Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif had okayed a 10,000 MW solar energy project to reduce reliance on costly imported diesel, furnace oil and LNG for power generation. The PM had also removed the 17 per cent general sales tax on solar panel to encourage businesses and households to opt for solar energy.
However, there is growing unease among DHA residents at the authority’s decision to send them notices and impose fines for allegedly violating its construction laws by installing elevated steel structures for solar panels on their rooftops.
The residents are also surprised that the DHA, which itself allowed them to install solar panels, is now threatening to penalise them.
Authority asks house owners to either remove ‘the violation’ or get it regularised
“It is quite a strange and unexpected development because there are so many houses in DHA with solar panels on their rooftops. They were not questioned about this earlier, in fact encouraged. Now all of a sudden they are expected to cough up refurbishment charges that may amount to hundreds of thousands of rupees,” said Rashid H. Ansari, a resident.
“It seems like a trap where first they let you walk into an entrance and then shut all exits for you because they wanted you caught. Every second house here has solar panels and it’s been like this for over five or six years. Now suddenly this is an issue for DHA,” he said.
“They want us to get their permission for installing solar panels. And to get permission, there are certain conditions such as getting our memberships reviewed or renewed, paying of refurbishment charges, getting approval from architects and engineers who must also happen to be on their panel. Now we also have to pay these engineers their fee, which is no less than Rs100,000 to Rs200,000,” the resident informed.
Questioning what he called DHA’s chaudhrahat, another resident, Younus Siddiqui, said: “They are the masters of all they survey. They can do as they please. It’s their monopoly. They say that installing solar panels on our rooftops is altering the architectural structure of the houses. So it is being seen as a modification of the building, which requires approval from the relevant authority.”
“This is nothing. A cousin of mine, who is also a resident of DHA, was even penalised for putting a green garden shade mesh to block the sun in his driveway. They said that it was because he had built a steel frame for it. The DHA pulls you up for everything,” he said, adding that recently after the flooding they were allowed by DHA to repair and rebuild their homes without having to pay them any refurbishment charges.
“Perhaps this is DHA’s way of taking from us that waived amount,” he said.
‘Turning blind eye to others’
“If DHA does strict enforcement it is fine but I want to ask them why are they not treating all equally? Because I find them penalising some people and turning a blind eye to some others. There are some people here who have set up tents and kiosks outside their houses to accommodate their security guards. Sometimes these tents and cement constructions are also taking up a portion of the road but no one says anything. There is selective law enforcement here, which is not right. The same rules should apply to all,” he said.
A DHA spokesperson told Dawn that the authority had mentioned in its 2020 bylaws, also uploaded on the website, that they support green energy. “All we ask for is that any new construction that includes provision for solar panels should have it in their design drawing and that the drawing be approved by a structural engineer,” the spokesman pointed out.
“And if there are solar panels going to be installed on an old house, it also needs to be checked to see if it can even carry the extra load. We don’t want your roof to cave in after all,” the spokesperson said.
“If there is a DHA surveyor that you need to call over, he will not charge you anything for the evaluation. And after the survey all that is required from you is an application. Even a handwritten one would do so that we may approve the installation of the panels in order for you to get your new house plans regularised,” the spokesperson explained.
“You should also look at things from DHA’s point of view. We can’t let everyone do as they please because then some steel structures for the panels will be too high, some will be as low as your boundary wall. There needs to be some sort of symmetry, too,” the spokesperson concluded.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2022