IN a major policy shift, the Sindh cabinet recently decided to extend the cut-off date for the regularisation of katchi abadis (squatter settlements) from June 30, 1997 to Dec 31, 2011 — meaning that those that came up until the latter date would benefit. The Sindh Katchi Abadis Authority has been tasked with completing the necessary formalities and submitting the progress report to the cabinet in its next meeting.
The decision indicates that the Sindh government recognises the existence and expansion of katchi abadis and intends to address it in a proper manner. Interestingly, some critics believe that this is a populist move to win the votes of the poor, given the forthcoming local bodies elections. In any case, it is a ray of hope for thousands of katchi abadi dwellers in the province. Whether it is infrastructure development projects such as Karachi’s Lyari Expressway or the removal of ‘encroachments’ along the banks of nullahs for draining out rainwater, katchi abadi dwellers live in constant fear of eviction.
The katchi abadi challenge is directly related to land supply for housing the urban poor, in respect of which there has been no comprehensive plan for years. The various authorities had initially earmarked land for housing this segment of the population. But somehow, the same land was then allocated for real estate development purposes.
The controversial transactions of suburban land to a mega developer along the M-9 Motorway is an example. The matter was deliberated upon at length by the Supreme Court, which imposed a penalty on the developer in its May 4, 2018, judgement. But the same judgement safeguarded the interest of allottees of the said real estate undertaking.
How can cities be made more inclusive?
Till about two decades ago, several schemes were launched to supply land to the urban poor, but they were not successful because the approach was flawed. The schemes were launched in a similar manner as land supply options for middle- and upper-income groups. Acquiring application forms from development authorities or scheduled banks, depositing the forms with processing fee, computer balloting for selection of allottees, a long gap between the completion of payment modalities and possession, etc were common.
Many of these schemes were totally or partially monopolised by middle-income groups and investors who completed formalities and acquired land parcels but did not build on them as they did not require housing. Such people were only interested in buying land as an investment commodity for speculative purposes.
There are many case studies in the country and globally to draw useful lessons from. The targeted land supply experience of the NGO Saiban — Action Research for Shelter is an example. To combat speculation and ensure delivery of land to the needy, the Khuda ki Basti model was developed in the 1980s. Applied in various locations across Pakistan on a pilot scale, the model embodied lessons from katchi abadi development into a formal housing scheme with necessary modifications.
The status of potential beneficiaries was carefully examined. Afterwards, small plots were allotted to deserving households with technical and credit support to construct houses. Social guidance was continuously provided to enable the settlements to consolidate and become well-functioning neighbourhoods. In addition, many credit support programmes have been launched in the past to facilitate housing development.
Squatter settlements exist in cities across the globe, particularly in the southern hemisphere. Almost all urban administrations attempted to upgrade and rehabilitate such underprivileged settlements. Urban Operations, launched during 1990s in São Paulo, was an interesting venture. It aimed at public-private partnership models to mobilise substantial resources for favela upgradation. In contrast with totally public funded schemes, Urban Operations was found to be more effective because it invested in common infrastructure and ensured protection of people’s abodes from rain, flooding and other catastrophes. These interventions also enabled the corporate sector to contribute to upscaling the lives of squatter dwellers. The venture made São Paulo a more socially just and inclusive city.
Similarly, land pooling is a well-known approach for adjusting and readjusting unplanned developments in which landowners voluntarily and collectively hand over their land to the government for phased development of infrastructure.
Bhutan, India and Nepal have developed land pooling policies to upgrade irregular and physically distorted squatter settlements to an improved status. Disorganised, organic and irrational housing layouts were adjusted to become rectilinear land parcels to allow better provision of services with the addition of storeys. One can draw lessons from these examples for dealing with katchi abadi upgradation challenges in urban Sindh and elsewhere in Pakistan.
The writer is an academic and researcher based in Karachi.
Published in Dawn, by Noman Ahmed May 8th, 2022