KARACHI: For the past five years, Mohammed Adil has been planning to build his house in Gulistan-e-Jauhar, but each time he makes an investment, he gets unlucky. Land grabbing in this part of the city has become the order of the day. And many others like him have invested in housing schemes only to see their land taken over by a mafia allegedly in connivance with the police.
Adil is one of the eight distressed owners of 400-square yard plots of the defunct Karachi Development Authority Scheme No 36 in Block 7 that have been illegally occupied by workers of the ruling party, as they allege. Despite the fact that these owners filed an FIR (394/2010) against the land grabbers and went to the Sindh High Court that ruled in their favour, the police have yet to take action.
“It has been two months since the court clearly directed the police to take action against the culprits,” says one of the owners Ghayas Jilani, sharing a copy of the verdict. The court decided that the owners are allowed to take action against the encroachers under the Illegal Dispossession Act 2005.
“But the police are not with us. As a result, they (land grabbers) continue to sell our plots in broad daylight posing as estate agents. Every time we visit our plots to continue with the construction of our houses, they threaten that we must leave.” Some of them are also armed, he adds.
The occupants’ claim that they are being protected by Home Minister Zulfiqar Mirza and Pakistan Peoples Party flags in the area hint towards the party’s involvement as well, but plot owners are afraid to point a finger at anyone. “We just want the police to take action against these encroachers and obey the court’s orders,” insists Jilani, adding that they have been resisting these land grabbers for several years, but they became active again since early this year.
The land mafia is mostly active on the outskirts of Karachi where the writ of the government is largely absent, but in the past few years encroachers began targeting land in the city center such as Gulistan-e-Jauhar as well. The illegal occupation of apartments in Rabia City is a case in point.
Jilani fears that the quick pace of work carried out by encroachers and their new buyers and will soon turn block 10 into a slum and complicate their case further. “Right now we are only fighting with the land mafia, but if our house is sold to someone else who is backed by a political party, moving them out would make things even more difficult for us. We don’t want this to turn into another Rabia City.”
Gulistan-e-Jauhar SIO Aftab Shah says they are still investigating the matter and it is too early to say who are the rightful owners of the plots. “In some cases, a plot is owned by two parties at the same time and both possess legal documents to the land,” he said, adding that The Express Tribune should contact him after four days when he would be in a “better position to talk”.
Meanwhile, Jilani, Adil and others have also written the director of the anti-encroachment unit of the city government (formerly the KDA), the EDO Works and Services, the EDO Revenue, the DO Land (KDA Wing). They have yet to hear from them.
The land mafia, says Gilani, have also demanded that each owner pay them at least Rs30,000 in bribes if they wish to continue construction. “But why should we give a bribe when this is our land,” Gilani demands. Adil hastens to add that there is no one who will be able to give the assurance that once they do give a bribe, these men will go away.
Among these people, only one of the owners Advocate Khwaja Asghar had been successful in going ahead with construction without paying a bribe. In fact, his is the only house standing in the area right now. “Khwaja Asghar was able to ignore the warnings because he understands the law and knew what legal action he was required to take. In fact, he was the one who convinced us to take the matter to court and we won as well... but that doesn’t matter anymore,” says Gilani. “It seems like a wasted effort because the original owners are being dispossessed as the police look the other way.”
House of their nightmare
In Adil’s case, he says this is the second time he has been let down by the government. “I previously bought a plot in Engineers and Architects Society in Block 7 of Jauhar, which was a project of Gul Builders. That got encroached as well. This time I purchased this land through a resale in January and immediately started construction, but I am being threatened again.”
Most of these legitimate plots of 400-sq yards were won through KDA balloting back in the 1990s. Some owners sold their land, while others waited for Gulistan-e-Jauhar to progress before they could move in with their families. “But in this country if you leave your land empty for more than a decade, the land mafia conveniently takes over,” says Adil, who is a retired engineer. “I was planning to move in soon and had invested all my savings to build my dream house, but this has turned into a nightmare.”
Jilani says that he is disappointed with the police who have no respect for law-abiding citizens. “We are all original owners of these plots and are suffering only because we refuse to go against the law,” he says, adding that the highest price he will eventually pay is by becoming distant from his children. “Both my son and daughter are unwilling to move to Jauhar because of the illegal activities in this area. They have warned me that if they get the chance, both of them will settle abroad because they are not suited for a country like Pakistan, where no one cares for the rule of law.”
Published in The Express Tribune, September 6th, 2010.
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