TWO icons in the development sector passed away recently — Anwar Rashid on Jan 26 and Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui on Jan 28. Anwar was one of the main drivers of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP), particularly its microcredit programme referred to as the Orangi Charitable Trust (OCT). Tasneem Ahmed Siddiqui was a career bureaucrat who contributed to the development sector through various pioneering efforts.
Anwar joined OPP in the early 1980s. Before that, as a student activist, he raised his voice for the underprivileged. With the renowned Dr Akhtar Hameed Khan, he mobilised local communities to come together for collective development. At the time, a large number of migrants, without any resources, were arriving from parts of the country to build a better life for themselves and their extended clans. These innocent folk thought that the government agencies would extend their support to them in matters of housing, livelihood, healthcare, education, etc. But the government showed apathy.
Akhtar Hameed Khan and his colleagues engaged with them and raised awareness about the benefits of mobilisation, self-help and community action. They explained the merits of learning new skills to the migrants. Many received training and helped build lane sewers and other missing infrastructural components in Orangi. Masons learnt to build safer and durable abodes. Unfortunately, poverty crushed many of those with skills and entrepreneurial talent.
Anwar, under Akhtar Hameed Khan’s guidance, set up a microcredit programme. Formal banking outfits viewed the poor as unreliable, credit unworthy and incapable of undertaking profitable ventures. The poor did not possess assets to use as collateral for accessing formal credit. Anwar and his comrades observed the urban and later rural poor, and concluded that with credit support and technical guidance, their micro enterprises would work. The OCT extended small loans. The default rate was very low. These development support options were extended to remote locations in Sindh and beyond. Thousands of small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs benefited from this extraordinary assistance that functioned on very low overheads and management costs. This model was studied locally and internationally.
They left behind a legacy of hope for the urban poor.
Tasneem Sahib critically examined the status of housing for the urban poor during his various postings as a bureaucrat in different parts of the country. He saw that while development authorities and public agencies announced housing schemes for the poor, they never reached them. Instead, middle-class folk acquired different parcels of land as investment. Thousands of such plots were allotted for speculation, profiteering and parking surplus capital. There was little to no occupancy in these large housing schemes as the middle classes or investors were not interested in building on these lands. But katchi abadis were growing where the poor actually found a residential option.
Tasneem Sahib discovered that the middlemen and land sub-dividers identified public lands in connivance with government functionaries, liaised with the urban poor to squat and build on the land and began a settlement. These informal entrepreneurs understood that the poor needed shelter immediately, but without bureaucratic hassle. He modified these principles so that the urban poor could benefit effectively in a formal manner.
When posted as DG, Hyderabad Development Authority, in the 1980s, he launched his first pilot in a sector in Gulshan-i-Shahbaz near Hyderabad. This model came to be based on incremental housing development. The real urban poor were identified through a rigorous process of social contacts and screening. Targeted households were invited to begin living in the reception area of the scheme with their belongings. Water and transportation services were facilitated. After ascertaining that the households really had no shelter, they were given a plot of land to build with any building material and technology they could afford.
Such shelters evolved without government subsidy. Gradually, the people improved their dwellings. Building regulations were relaxed to enable people to use part of their houses as workshops or retail spaces. With OPP’s technical guidance, sanitation services were provided. After the completion of the first settlement, popularly called Khuda ki Basti, more pilot projects were set up in Gharo, Karachi and elsewhere. Some public agencies and social entrepreneurs replicated this successful model in different parts of the country. Various housing policies also adopted this model which was recognised internationally. The prestigious Aga Khan Award for Architecture was given to Khuda ki Basti in 1995. His work is being carried forward by the NGO Saibaan. Tasneem Sahib worked very hard to sensitise the policymakers to mainstream the outcomes of these pilot projects. This task remains to be completed.
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, By Noman Ahmed February 8th, 2022