Bulldozing the poor of Islamabad to make room for the rich?

The CDA lulls generations of slum dwellers into believing their homes are safe and then they bring in the bulldozers.

Faraz Talat April 19, 2014
I offer my deepest sympathies to the elite and upper-middle class families of Islamabad who may be experiencing frustrating irregularities in the activities of their servants.

It’s quite possible that the inconvenience is being caused by their maasi (domestic maid) Zareena’s sudden homelessness in the aftermath of the Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) war on slums.

I’ll try not to undermine the importance of preventing illegal occupation of public land but this prevention shouldn’t be reserved for just one segment of society. It’s expected for these settlements to be raked away especially, if the occupiers are haplessly poor and have no teeth to bite back. But what about the wealthy ‘land-developers’ in this country for whom, collectively 1,200 kanals of land is the equivalent of the segment of your property occupied by your motorcycle?

Try approaching their gates with bulldozers and see what happens.

Everyone knows that the lightweight slumdogs can be tossed around with far greater ease.

Interior Minister, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, while addressing a news conference on the horrific bomb blast at Sabzi Mandi (vegetable market) in Islamabad, was able to quickly identify one of the leading causes of the disaster to be the presence of too many poor people in the area.

Who gave them permission to park themselves there? It is inconceivable why the outcasts of the system don’t play by the system’s rules.

It is customary for demolishers to allot alternate plots to the uprooted families in order to rebuild their hovels. However, there are complaints that these arrangements were not made and during the hustle in which some 2,000 illegal constructions were razed, the belongings of many of the dwellers were also damaged. A school providing free education to the slum children was partially destroyed in the process, despite the fact that the structure was designed to be disassembled and relocated elsewhere.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither were these colossal, labyrinthine slums. Some of them have been here since the 1980s, thriving under the CDA’s silent consent until they decided to end the silence one afternoon with an out-of-the-blue scream.

It’s like when you sail through the Islamabad Expressway 29 days a month casually exceeding the speed limit, not wearing a seat belt, with the license plate on your car not strictly matching the legal requirement and nobody stops you. And then on day 30, there’s a cop signalling you to pull over next to a dozen cars all fined at the same time; he’s seemingly on a rampage to fill some sort of a quota for monthly traffic fines.

It’s like that with the CDA and the slums too – they lull many generations of dwellers into believing their occupation is kosher or at least, not a deal big enough to fuss over. And when they find comfort in their squalor and expand to the size of a new metropolis, they spring the trap and bring in the bulldozers.

The rapid growth of slums is not a disease but a symptom of the government’s incompetence coupled with the public’s apathy. The poor don’t build their lakes of tin roofs and mud chambers to ruin the otherwise pristine view of the city from your terrace. They don’t do it to pollute your waterways or hinder civic development projects.

They do it because they too, allegedly, need an affordable roof over their heads, preferably one close to where they work so that their employers don’t shout at them when they’re late. And most of these dwellers are willing to relocate if allowed alternate plots to set up homes.

Perhaps, they should line their huts along the Constitution Avenue or in the well-trimmed lawn of the Parliament building. Lest, those responsible for their welfare forget how the other half of the nation lives.
Faraz Talat

The writer is a doctor based in Rawalpindi and writes about current affairs and societal issues.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.

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