Land and power

A staggering 12m people living in vulnerable informal settlements contribute to about 35% of the total economy


June 28, 2021

Courts are duty-bound to judge in line with the law – no matter what. While the instructions from the honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan concerning illegal occupation on the government land risks homelessness and joblessness, they could not have deviated from what the law demands. An estimated 50,000 people are estimated to be affected from the anti-encroachment drive ordered by the Supreme Court along the Gujjar and Korangi nullahs alone. Similar drives that have been and are being conducted across the city have directly affected more than 150,000 labourers, settlers and residents alike — their livelihood vanished in a single blow. What many don’t realise is that a humanitarian crisis is in the making.

Illegal construction, china-cutting and land-grabbing have all been rampant practices that have destroyed the rich life of the bustling city. Citizens have to face serious transport, wastage and drainage issues as a result of corrupt practices and gross mismanagement on the part of the authorities concerned. Demolitions of illegal structures are, however, not a viable solution. The reality is that encroachments are of two types: one, done by the poor for the sake of their livelihood to make ends meet; and two, by those in power to enhance their control, wealth and self-interest. They cannot be treated the same. Furthermore, officials cannot outright ignore the massive informal sector as a staggering 12 million people living in vulnerable informal settlements contribute to about 35% of the total economy. The economy needs to be made inclusive.

The anti-encroachment drive itself has taken different forms. Poor settlers and hawkers are completely shunned, middle-class residents are given minimal reparations and no action is taken against the powerful rich. If the government has failed to control and meet the needs of the burgeoning population, why do common citizens have to face the consequences? The court needs to conduct a thorough probe and punish all those involved in corrupt land practices. Only then can the problem be uprooted.

 

Published in The Express Tribune, June 28th, 2021.

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