At 11 pm, the lone guard standing watch at the ruins of Margalla Towers is asleep at his booth. From the front, the 10-storey building – or at least what is left of it – looks deserted. But if locals are to be believed, the apartment complex where over 70 residents were killed in the earthquake of October 8 is still occupied. Legend has it that the building is inhabited by ghosts and spirits.
For those not inclined to risk waking the guard, the only way into the Margalla Towers is through the back. The only stairway not completely destroyed leads to the basement. Inside, a group of scruffy men are sitting around among discarded needles. Six years after this upscale apartment building was destroyed in an earthquake, it has become a haven for junkies.
“In October 2007, the Supreme Court ruled in our favour and told the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to compensate us,” says Saira Ansari, who owned an apartment in the building, and was part of a lawsuit filed by the residents of Margalla Towers against Ramzan Khokhar, the builder and owner of the complex.In total, Rs 1.75 billion was to be paid out to people who owned apartments in Margalla Towers.
Nearly a year later, however, the Supreme Court amended its decision. The make-up of the court had been changed after President Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of emergency rule and the elevation of Justice Abdul Hameed Dogar to the position of chief justice. The Dogar court ruled that Khokhar, since he owned four apartments in the building, should be paid Rs43 million since he too had suffered material losses in the earthquake.
When the Iftikhar Chauhdry court decided that Khokhar should not be paid compensation for his apartments, the CDA argued in his favour. And when a lower court found Khokhar guilty, it was the CDA that appealed the verdict in the high court. The payment of compensation to Khokhar ensured that his criminal case would collapse and he fled the country, his compensation money in tow.
Negligent city administration
An official of the CDA, who requested anonymity because employees aren’t allowed to talk about Margalla Towers, denied any collusion. He said that the CDA simply wanted to resolve the issue as soon as possible.
After the court’s verdict was announced, the Margalla Towers were handed over to the CDA. However, says the official, they were given control only of the land, not the demolished structure. Thus, in 2008, the CDA invited bids from companies to demolish the building. From a list of eight applicants, one was chosen. However, that choice was dogged by allegations of corruption and favouritism, and one of the companies that lost out on the bid filed a case against the CDA. The company that won the bid, says the CDA official, was afraid of negative publicity and so withdrew its bid.
Unable to destroy the towers, says the official, the CDA then tried to auction off the land but the highest bid they received was for Rs1.35 billion. The CDA rejected it since it wouldn’t even cover the costs of the compensation they paid out.
Now, on the sixth anniversary of the earthquake, the Margalla Towers are all but forgotten, serving only as a haven for drug addicts and the homeless.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 8th, 2011.