n its outline the story might be familiar to many, but it is a chilling tale when the details are laid out clearly. Powerful land developers forcibly evict poor villagers from the lands they have been living and working on for generations.
On the vacated land, plush gated housing colonies are built, with special access to municipal services such as water and sewerage, and in some cases, there are special arrangements for the provision of uninterrupted electricity.
These enclaves of extreme privilege are packaged in a public relations blitz as ‘development schemes’, and sections within them are offered to middle- and lower-middle-class families as the perfect living space.
Laws are moulded to facilitate the enterprise by allowing government land to be sold for a pittance to these enterprises, with government agencies to bear the cost of building infrastructure within them, while the police forces detain those amongst the displaced who dare to protest, and threaten to implicate them in heinous crimes if they don’t acquiesce.
This story plays out with such regularity now that it has become routine. An investigative piece by this newspaper has unearthed the details in at least one case, that of Bahria Town Karachi, but allegations of similar wrongdoings have swirled around other large property development enterprises too.
In the DHA Valley scam in Islamabad, and the Elysium case which spans more than one city and involves the brothers of a former army chief, the investigations have not been concluded and charges have not been framed.
The rich and powerful have a way of surviving these scandals and the arms of justice have hardly ever been able to move against them.
In the case of Karachi, this slash-and-burn model of building elite enclaves is advancing in a city where more than half the population lives on less than 8pc of its land, in katchi abadis bereft of basic services such as water, sewerage and trash removal.
The energies of the state, meanwhile, are directed towards facilitating the acquisition of land by these developers.
Bahria Town owner Malik Riaz has reportedly even bragged, on numerous occasions, of the people in high offices whom he has bribed, famously saying that we would “have a heart attack” if he revealed the size of the largest bribe that has been paid to them.
These enterprises must be restrained. The focus of the state must return to where it belongs: providing housing for the poor, and not serving them with eviction notices.
The nexus among powerful individuals from all walks of life that these property development enterprises produce is a highly toxic ingredient in our politics, and unleashes forces that are destructive and serve to warp the priorities of rulers and citizenry alike. And Mr Riaz and his ilk must be made to understand that giving a bribe is as wrong as accepting one.
Published in Dawn, April 20th, 2016
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