May issue 2009
“There is a lack of affordable housing and accomodation” — Tasneem Siddiqui
“Katchi abadis are not an aberration. If someone constructs a house on the footpath, that is an encroachment and thus, an aberration. But katchi abadis are a phenomenon.
There is no shortage of houses or apartments available in the city. But, there is a lack of affordable housing and accommodation, which drives many people into katchi abadis. You are imposing the two-nation theory on the poor. The world over, the richer the people, the farther off they live from the city centre. And then they pay the cost of commuting. They are discouraged from taking their cars to the city centre because it is so expensive and instead use public transport. Here, it is the opposite. Due to lack of adequate planning, we have reverse expansion. The poor are being moved out the city. In Pakistan, we want big houses close to the city centre, we want cars as well as the services of the poorer masses in the form of domestic help.
The katchi abadi phenomenon is linked to a broader social question. At the moment, the low-income segment is just being exploited. But it is only a matter of time before they mobilise and when that happens, the whole situation is going to explode. We used to say that we don’t have people sleeping on the footpaths. But now you can see that is happening. People are starving; disputes over land have also started. Of course when you don’t address the basic needs of the masses, all sorts of crime will rise. The social causes must be addressed.
The natural growth of the city’s population is 2% annually and you can add another 2% in the form of migrants. People from the informal sector have a low income. If you have money, there is no shortage of apartments/houses in the city. But since they cannot find accommodation within the city, as it is too expensive or there is no space, they turn to the outskirts.
This is where the land mafias come in. They connive with the local government councillors and the police and develop a system of land supply. These abadis then start developing. So first they capture vacant land. And while it is all illegal, residents in these abadis pay money for the house and services. Land grabbers become providers. After 10-15 years, the abadi has multiplied in numbers, and it is only then that the government realises it has turned into a settlement and something must be done.
For 20 years, Karachi has been running without a master plan, mass transit or a bus terminal. The city centre should have low-rise buildings. People should either walk or cycle or there should be mass transit. There shouldn’t be large houses near the city centre.
There have been ad hoc plans where the city of Karachi is concerned. What the British constructed was far better, since certain areas served certain purposes. But now everything has been commercialised. Planning should be the state’s responsibility and the public view should also be included in this.
Generally, I am against the relocation of katchi abadis. Relocation can be carried out in certain cases, such as Machar Colony. We want residents to be provided with a better environment and standards of living when relocated. Machar Colony is located on marshy land and the people are employed in the shrimp-peeling business, which is hazardous in all respects. The area breeds many diseases, so to relocate them would be in the best interests of the residents.”
Note: As told to Farieha Aziz and Amna Khalique