Residents of cantonments, comprising almost 70% civilians, are eligible to vote in cantonment board elections, which are currently being held all across the country. Posh housing societies and civilian airports are located in cantonments where once soldiers lived in barracks.
Demands for plots, rapid expansion without sufficient infrastructure and the influx of real estate mafia to maneuver these cantonment boards has created problems for citizens. Permission for construction of petrol pumps in residential areas posing serious safety issues are now a common sight in cantonments and DHAs. It is important to mention that there were hardly any commercial centres in cantonments before 1980. However, over a period of time, commercial centers and residential societies have replaced barracks. Rapid commercialisation without adequate infrastructure for water provision, sanitation and rainwater drains has created problems for residents. Cantonments boards lack professionals specialising in town or urban planning. They are being administered in an ad hoc manner. In Karachi, residents are forced to pay water charges but water seldom flows through taps due to the presence of the water tanker mafia. Moreover, multi-storied buildings are being allowed on reclaimed land in Karachi, despite adverse soil survey.
Residents need to ensure that real estate agents do not dominate cantonments boards and elect individuals with integrity who can resolve their issues. Those involved in malpractices should not be allowed to contest elections. Sanity, safety and functioning infrastructure must prevail over the commercial interests of a few.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 13th, 2021.