In what proved to be a case of déjà vu, just days before an operation against slums was scheduled, the capital’s civic agency was informed by the Ministry of Interior that it had been indefinitely postponed on Friday.
Initially, we were told that the operation was called off due to an upcoming polio campaign in Islamabad, but no date has been given, said a senior Capital Development Authority (CDA) official. However, many at the CDA believe that this is a face-saving explanation.
“Islamabad Police will be assigned special duties during the upcoming polio campaign and they will not be able to assist the CDA in the scheduled campaign,” said an official of Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration, requesting not to be named. He confirmed the development that the operation had been postponed for the time being.
CDA had announced it would launch an operation from March 24, targeting the katchi abadi in Sector I-11, commonly known as Afghan Basti, in the first phase. It had arranged the required machinery and manpower and allocated special funds for the mega operation.
On Friday, CDA Member Estate Shaista Sohail addressed a gathering of nearly 1,000 CDA employees, who were supposed to take part in the operation. CDA’s enforcement wing also arranged the required machinery from other formations.
“It’s the second time in a year that the CDA had prepared itself to launch an operation, but the ICT administration backed off.”
It’s the ICT administration’s responsibility to lead the operation but both times the CDA voluntarily offered to take the lead the official added. “Surprisingly, both times the ICT administration and the interior ministry backed off just days before the scheduled operation.”
In 2013, CDA had planned to carry out a similar operation titled, “Aman, Salamati Aur Behtri,” to remove Afghan Basti, but the plan flopped after the ICT administration backed out at the eleventh hour.
The day the operation was scheduled, CDA’s enforcement wing teams rushed to Sector I-11 but found themselves in the line of fire when the Islamabad Police and the ICT administration failed to show up. Fearing a possible backlash, CDA called off the operation.
A few days before the operation, in collaboration with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, CDA had conducted a survey of Afghan Basti. Some 864 families comprising 7,995 individuals were living there.
Plans to remove illegal katchi abadis were initiated in the backdrop of a recent direction by the Islamabad High Court. Slum dwellers had opposed the decision and staged a protest against possible eviction.
On Thursday, over 1,000 protesters from different katchi abadis staged a brief sit-in before the main gate of the CDA Headquarters with the demand, “No eviction without resettlement.”
According to a survey recently carried out by the Islamabad Police, there are at least 24 katchi abadis in urban and rural areas of the city, housing 13,521 families comprising 84,591 individuals.
Out of 24 slums, 21 are located in urban areas. During the last five years, the Islamabad Police traced 674 crime cases to residents of these areas.
Most crimes related to the sale and purchase of drugs and liquor. Slum dwellers mostly work as labourers, sweepers, CDA sanitary staff, and loaders. A number of beggars also live in the slums.
The police suggested CDA remove 11 katchi abadis at the earliest, while fencing off the remaining 13. According to the CDA record says out of 24 slums, it only recognises 10.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 22nd, 2014.
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