KARACHI: When approvals were handed out for high-rise buildings in Karachi, a lot of departments minted money. The real losers were the residents of these buildings who are now facing water shortages and poor sanitation.
There was no department that did not benefit from the kickbacks. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board (KWSB) issued illegal approvals and provided water and sewer connections to such buildings. The cantonment boards changed the use of land to allow skyscrapers. Several politicians associated with construction businesses secured profitable contracts.
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When these buildings became inhabited, the residents began to suffer due to poor water and sanitation. Recently, a judicial commission probing the lack of provision of such services restrained the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) from issuing any more approvals for high-rise buildings.
Talking to The Express Tribune, KWSB managing director Misbahuddin Farid gave the example of Bath Island, which was designed for merely 2,000 government houses and hence had a small system for water and sanitation. "Now it is teeming with multi-storey buildings, none of which sought a no-objection certificate from the water board," he pointed out. KWSB did not receive any betterment charges for these apartments so it is neither able to provide water to this area nor maintain its sewage system properly.
Earlier, only single families used to reside in a 240-square-yard house, which has now been split into several apartments spread across multiple floors. At least 10 families not occupy the same space, complained Farid. Accepting that their department does send separate utility bills to each unit, he still complained of not receiving betterment charges.
Tug of war
"There is an on-going war between the KWSB, the SBCA and the cantonments," said a senior KWSB official, requesting anonymity. "Unfortunately, the minister for both the KWSB and the SBCA are the same."
Since 2012, the water board has not received any betterment charges from the SBCA, the official complained. However, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation council recently passed a resolution that clearly states that 'under the change of land use and master planning by-laws 2003', the KWSB must get 20% share of the approval of change of land fees.
SBCA additional director Agha Masood and director-general Noor Muhammad Laghari were both not available to give their comments.
Laws on a whim
As for the cantonment boards, the change of by-laws happens equally arbitrarily and without any consideration for sewage line connections. These cantonment by-laws are drafted in Rawalpindi's Military Estate Office, which issues Statutory Regulatory Orders (SROs) and changes the land use of any area falling in their jurisdiction.
For example, an insurance company's office was built in DHA Phase 1 on a commercial plot facing a residential street and the relevant approvals were given silently through an SRO that comes directly from Rawalpindi.
NGO Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment's Amber Alibhai, pointed out how the Cantonments Act 1924, which was used to draft the cantonment by-laws, does not empower the individual boards to draft the laws they have drafted.
'Change of Land Use' chapter of the CBC's Building Bye-Law 2007 states that no amenity plot reserved for a specific purpose shall be converted or utilised for any other purpose, she said, adding that residential plots cannot be converted unless approved by the federal government, the Master Plan Group Officers or the City District Government of Karachi.
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This too is done once the applicant pays the necessary fee to the board and gives a full justification, she added. Afterwards, the board must issue a public notice for the change of land use. If anyone objects to the change, the board has to give it consideration before a final decision is made.
Even the conversion of residential plots to commercial ones is allowed for the purpose of education, if they are approved by the board after inviting public objections from the neighbours.
"When public notices are given no one bothers to go through such ads in the newspapers and land uses are thus changed swiftly, which affects the entire neighbourhood later," said an official. However, no cantonment board official was willing to speak on the matter.
Even legal opinion on the matter is fairly straightforward. According to Advocate Naeemur Rehman, every construction authority is bound by law to consider human health and life before commencing any project.
Quoting a Supreme Court 1994 judgment, he said the framing of a housing scheme does not mean levelling of land and carving out plots but it also involves working out approximate requirements of water, electricity, gas, sewerage lines, streets and roads etc. If a housing scheme is framed on the assumption that it will have a certain number of residential units, but if the plot owners are allowed to raise multi-storey buildings, the public utility services will surely fall short of facilities and everyone living in the scheme will suffer. This is what happened in Karachi.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 7th, 2017.
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