Every real estate agent in Karachi wants to get his hands on a piece of land in the Karachi Development Authority Officers Cooperative Housing Society. Perched on a hill and hidden behind the National Stadium, a 240-square-yard plot in this prime residential area sells for around Rs30 million.
Only one entry and exit point ensures this gated and guarded society is the safest in Karachi. There are no barbed wires over the house walls. The residents know each other and in this neighbourhood of around 300 homes, an outsider is easily identifiable.
The society was developed by the Karachi Development Authority (KDA), which is credited for giving the city some of its best residential colonies. Plots were given to its officers, but over the years almost all of them sold the property to individuals not linked with the authority.
Not surprisingly, attempts were made to carve out more residential plots from every possible space, including public parks. The society’s management, which controls the land affairs, even tried to commercialise a few remaining plots. But a recent controversy has pushed the residents of this peaceful locality to take the management to court. It has also highlighted the shady ways in which cooperatives societies operate in Karachi.
Bone of contention
The society’s management has laid claim to 5.5 acres from a nearby factory. The land belongs to the KDA’s pre-stressed pipe factory, which has turned into a graveyard for rusting trucks and machinery: the city’s sewage flows to the sea in the concrete pipes made here. Owned by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC), the land’s market value is Rs1.6 billion. But not a single paisa was paid to the government.
“They will build high-rises and commercialise the place. We can’t let this happen,” said Farid Khan, who has been living in the society for two decades. “Utilities are already limited. The supply of water and electricity is only enough for the existing residents.”
“[But] we don’t have any say in society matters,” complained Khan. “Almost all the KDA officials had sold their plots years ago, but are still members of the society.”
A cooperative housing society is formed under the framework of Cooperative Society Act 1925. At least 30 members have to come together to form a society, which buys the land from the government and distributes it among its members.
The residents are bitter that the KDA officers have handed over the ownership of the plots, but have not transferred the right to take part in the society’s affairs to the new owners. This has left the actual owners without any voting rights to elect their management.
Now, efforts to attach more land to the society have added fuel to the fire. “Even if we assume that the land has been added in larger public interest, they [management] should share the details of the deal,” said Advocate Haider Imam Rizvi, the counsel for the residents. “Make it an open auction. Invite the public to submit their bids so everyone has an opportunity to participate,’ he said. “But this was not done.”
People privy to the development say that the pipe factory land has been sold to politically connected individuals, who are actually behind the entire scam. The society’s administrator, Intezar Hussain Jafri, refused to speak on the subject.
Amanat Ali Mirani, the pipe factory’s project director, confirmed that around five to seven acres of land have been encroached on. “I only joined couple of months ago so I don’t have more details, but I know for sure that not a single rupee was paid. Our facilities have been damaged too.”
A prefabricated wall cuts right through the factory, which is spread over 32 acres. Debris of a curing tank, where large concrete pipes were submerged in water to strengthen them, and other facilities are scattered around the place.
“This was bound to happen,” conceded another factory official. “The plant has been dormant for such a long time. It was just a matter of time before the factory’s prime location was used as real estate.”
Despite the government’s restriction, almost all departments, especially public health engineering, buy pre-stressed pipes from open market. “It’s all about kickbacks,” the official said. “When a government department takes pipes from us, we have to fulfil all documentary obligations; whereas it’s easier to alter the invoice when dealing with a private party.”
Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th, 2012.
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