KARACHI: The Anti-Encroachment Cell has plans to start working in Korangi where private and government land is slowly being taken over by organised groups. Previously, the land in the industrial area wasn’t a target for the squatters.
“We have information on the activities of the land mafia and an operation will be launched against them in the next few days,” said AEC DSP Talha. “We have been doing our job but due to the unrest in the city and Ramazan we could not catch any land grabbers.”
In fact, no land grabbers have been booked in the last three months. Earlier, however, the cell managed to register 25 FIRs that are currently being prosecuted in special courts. It was at this time that the cell won back more than 2,500 acres of illegally possessed land.
Part of the problem in successfully prosecuting the criminals is that people are too scared to go up against the mafia if private land is concerned. “We need a complainant to initiate action against the land grabbers,” explained a district land officer, Jamal Mustafa Qazi. But in the end, the government itself is only concerned with public land and unless someone with a private plot comes forward to register an FIR with the AEC police, they can’t go into the case.
It is not that difficult for them to evict illegal occupants from empty plots of land, the problem arises when residential projects are illegally established on public land. This happens, according to Qazi, because government officials from public departments such as the defunct Karachi Development Authority, Karachi Metropolitan Corporation or Karachi Water and Sewerage Board abet the land grabbers.
The government has lost land in the hotspots of Gadap, Bin Qasim and Keamari towns and the land mafia is also working in Manghopir, around the Lyari Expressway, Taiser Town, and in Malir Town. But recently it has spread to Korangi where land grabbers are occupying vast expanses of public and private land.
Sources privy to matters told The Express Tribune that the AEC police has been in close contact with the members of the land mafia but so far they have not appeared to have taken any action. The more they wait, the easier it is for the organised groups to strengthen their political contacts.
The problem is so bad that the president, prime minister and interior minister have taken notice. On Sunday, Rehman Malik met members of ABAD (Association of Builders and Developers) to discuss what needs to be done.
According to estimates provided by an ABAD member who attended the meeting, the value of the land that has been taken over is about Rs60 billion. With the help of the police and board of revenue officials 14,000 acres and about 72 large projects have been ruined.
The modus operandi is simple. Revenue officials prepare fake documents for the land. The police from the area provide protective cover to the land mafia. The middleman makes contacts with the owner of the land and offers his services to broker a deal with the mafia.
ABAD chairman Babar Mirza Chughtai told The Express Tribune that the police protects the land mafia and implicates the builders and developers while the process of litigation becomes complicated as the land mafia produces fake documents in court. There is no reason to invest money in the construction business when the life, family and capital of the investors is unsecure, he remarked.
The situation has led to an 80% decline in the construction industry which has also affected 70 other industries (cement, steel, woodwork).
“The construction industry is the backbone of the modern economy,” he said. “Its decline is tantamount to the collapse of the economy.”
For now ABAD is satisfied with the government’s initiatives to evict people. A Crisis Management Cell will be tackling land grabbing. In the meantime ABAD is helping the government by providing facts and figures to help apprehend the culprits.
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2011.