ISLAMABAD: One fine day, some 12 years after her family had settled, the yellow beast of destruction came and laid siege to Shaheen Bibi’s* home. “My children were screaming and I was bedridden due to pain in my gallbladder,” Bibi told The Express Tribune.
“They tore down my house and I could do nothing.”
Bibi, a mother of five, is one of the more than 500 people living in 48 Quarters, a katchi abadi located in a ravine in sector G-7/3-2 in Islamabad. Her family has been settled in the neighbourhood for more than a decade now.
During that time, she said, no one from Capital Development Authority (CDA) came to ask them to evacuate the land. They did not receive any notice to vacate the house either.
The family just woke up one day to find men in plain clothes, accompanied by a bulldozer, hammering away at the walls of their house.
“I have three young daughters and one daughter-in-law. Now they are unsafe in their own home,” she said, worried.
The Deputy Director General Planning of CDA, Ghulam Sarwar Sindhu, has little sympathy for these encroachers. “Why should the authority serve a prior notice to illegal occupants before taking action against them,” he said.
The land being cleared is an extension of 18 Quarters and not part of the katchi abadi, which is located on the other side of the ravine, said Sindhu. The space was originally meant for a public park. The foundation of this park was laid in March this year, after people in the neighbourhood pushed CDA for its construction.
“We pursued CDA after a few people from 18 Quarters came to our houses and harassed us,” said a resident of G-7, living close to 18 Quarters.
“We don’t like them. We want them gone from here,” he added.
While it has not yet launched a proper anti-encroachment campaign, the civic body has been using various tactics to drive these people out of their homes. Besides demolishing walls of different houses, the authority is also dumping raw material for the park in the extension of the katchi abadi.
Zahida Naeem*, a widow and also a resident of 48 Quarters, said the authority officials entered her home without getting permission and tore down a room and the toilet in her house. An angry Naeem asked, “Where is it written that they can enter someone’s house without permission?”
Afshan Raheem*, another resident of the katchi abadi, accused CDA officials of throwing red chilli powder in the buckets they use in their bathrooms.” They are using all tactics to make our life miserable and difficult,” she said. “Where was CDA before? Why are they doing this to us after 10-12 years?”
Sindhu said the houses should have been cleared earlier. He blamed the delay on the lethargic attitude of former CDA officials. The authority, he said, had collaborated with the Piedar, an NGO, in 2002 and conducted a survey to recognise the houses that were constructed in 1985. He said only these houses were entitled to relocation, while the rest were illegal.
But the residents of this extension say they have electricity metres installed in their houses and are paying bills regularly. Their names are also on the voter list of Islamabad.
“How can our houses be illegal,” Bibi retorted, before adding, “Our shelters are being snatched away from us because we are poor. Just so that they can provide recreational facility to the rich, they will deprive us of our homes.”
Note: Names in this article have been changed upon request.
Published in The Express Tribune, November 6th, 2010.