KARACHI: Interior Minister Rehman Malik on Sunday promised a government crackdown against the illegal occupation of state land, claiming that the government had evidence of about 40,000 acres of land being forcibly taken by an influential ‘land mafia’.
The minister made this claim after a meeting with the Association of Builders and Developers (ABAD), a lobbying group for the real estate and construction sectors.
“There are big names hiding behind the land mafia, who are taking advantage of the chaos in the city,” said Malik, adding that another dimension to the violence that has plagued the nation’s commercial and financial capital for the last several months.
Property rights are notoriously weak in Karachi, with several groups of real estate developers allegedly allying themselves with criminal gangs to take over properties they do not own and using them to build malls, apartment blocks, etc.
Courts and law-enforcement agencies are frequently seen as too costly, too frustrating and too time-consuming a recourse of action, leading many of the true owners of the land to settle their disputes with the illegal occupiers by agreeing to a ‘sale’ where they receive far below the market value of their land.
While the ‘land mafia’ is not a uniform group, there have been allegations of highly influential businessmen in the city being involved in this sort of trade, though few people have ever been named and even fewer have been convicted of any such crime.
The land mafia’s activities are made easier by the presence of several criminal gangs who often operate with impunity across Karachi.
The interior minister promised to begin an ‘indiscriminate’ campaign against the land mafia over the next three to four days and has asked ordinary citizens who have been dispossessed of their land to come forth with their ownership documents so that the government can begin helping them.
The minister claimed that he would also begin cracking down on government officials who often aid the land grabbers by creating falsified documents. Malik claimed that he had already asked the head of the provincial revenue board (which is in charge of keeping land records) to issue guidelines on how such prosecutions would move forward.
ABAD Chairman Babar Chughtai, however, claimed that his industry had nothing to do with politics and was suffering through a serious downturn in the real estate market.
The interior minister promised that the real estate developers’ concerns about extortion would be addressed through the creation of a special, dedicated office to handle the complaints by the industry.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 5th, 2011.