‘Vigilance’ with a vengeance

DHA authorities took away the bats, balls and wickets of a group of boys playing cricket on the street.

Shahzad Jillani June 30, 2010

A group of boys complain that they were playing cricket on the 30th street off Khyaban-e-Shamsheer after obtaining the permission of the residents in the area when a Defence Housing Authority (DHA) vigilance team showed up and took away their bats, balls and wickets.

"It has happened several times now and each time we ask who complained. They never answer," the boys claimed.

Interrupting a street cricket match by young boys is one thing. But when officials under the command of the DHA forcibly enter your house and misbehave, you know things are amiss. Which is why a group of residents expressed wariness regarding the role of the DHA "vigilance" team, calling it a body that was created to "harass people" instead of protecting them. Recently, a DHA vigilance team also forced its way inside an apartment in Seaview, owned by choreographer Sheema Kermani.

"Armed guards in blue shirts and red caps barged into my place once when I had held a get-together after a dance class inside the walls of my residence. They asked me to stop playing music, which at the time was off anyway. Later, I was told that a neighbour had allegedly complained about some filming taking place at my house. I asked who had complained but they said they were not allowed to reveal their sources. I told them that there was no [film] being shot at my place. They misbehaved and left," Kermani told The Express Tribune, adding that while the DHA officials had found it necessary to force their way inside her house on a false complaint, they never bothered to issue warnings to the management of the Royal Rodale Club, where concerts disturb the residents of the area late into the night.

"How is it fair that while I hold dance classes peacefully inside the walls of my house, a neighbouring club has all the liberty to play loud music? Residents cannot sleep till concerts are over," Kermani said.

Former chief justice of Pakistan, Justice Saeeduzzaman Siddiqui was getting a gas connection fitted in his house in DHA after allegedly obtaining all the required approval letters from the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) when a DHA vigilance team arrived at his residence and confiscated all the equipment despite being shown the official permission letters.

Syed Rizwan Ali Nizami, the director of the DHA vigilance office, said, however, that the incident had been portrayed falsely. Justice Siddiqui did not obtain a No Objection Certificate (NoC) from the cantonment. It was shown to us later and was signed by the CBC chief operating officer (COO). We wanted to know why the COO had signed the certificate instead of the NoC-issuing authorities. We thought it was obtained through special favours," Nizami maintained.

As for the Kermani incident, Nizami said that the neighbours who complained have a right to keep their identity a secret. He also clarified that concerts or functions at DHA clubs are asked to stop after midnight by the DHA vigilance teams

"I have spared no one, not even influential people like ministers, because I believe that law is equal for everybody," Nizami claimed.

"There have been so many encroachments in almost all commercial areas in DHA. Places like the Hot & Spicy food outlet were constructed right in front of the DHA vigilance office for so many years. DHA never took action against them, said residents, who questioned why they were being harassed despite following the rules while the actual offenders were not.

According to the Supreme Court's ruling, once a development authority, in this case the DHA, has developed an area and handed it over to the civic authorities - in DHA's case, the CBC-the jurisdiction of the area is transferred to the civic authorities while the development authorities do not have the right to dictate how things are run. DHA, through its vigilance force, has been harassing residents in order to maintain its control over the area, which is unacceptable as well as illegal," claimed representatives of various associations in DHA.

Nizami told The Express Tribune, however, that the vigilance force had been formed after a presidential order was passed in 1980. "Under the presidential orders, we operate with all the authority given to us to tackle and implement building by-laws, such as encroachments and illegal construction. I challenge anyone to quote a single example of illegal occupations in DHA. And while I am not responsible for the security of the people, we do carry out joint operations with the police to provide security to the residents," said Nizami, who said that the efforts of the vigilance team were the reason behind a lower number of crimes in the area when compared with the rest of the city.

Nizami added that while the team had no authority to raid a house or arrest people, they call the police to do so if they found any unlawful or illegal activities taking place in DHA.

"If we spot troubled areas, our control room immediately calls the area police, the Citizens-Police Liaison Committee and the Rangers personnel," said Nizami, who added that the vigilance teams were only meant to provide backup to the law enforcers.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 1st, 2010.


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