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COVER: The politics of land: Karachi: The Land Issue

COVER: The politics of land: Karachi: The Land Issue

KARACHI is a city characterised by contestations over resources by a diverse set of formal and informal actors — land and water being the two sectors where this trend is the most prevalent. As a parallel economy, it has become more difficult to effectively document the interface between land, services, housing and the associated socio-political, economic and environmental undercurrents. However, an excellent research publication has recently been launched that manages to connect the dots in a very holistic manner and presents its findings in a highly comprehendible and readable manner.

Arif Hasan, Noman Ahmed, Mansoor Raza, Asiya Sadiq-Polack, Saeed Uddin Ahmed and Moizza B. Sarwar have joined hands to write Karachi: The Land Issue, in which they have addressed the land dynamics in the metropolis, by applying a holistic lens on policies, laws and institutions, and looked at the assemblage of critical actors and factors defining the shape of the complicated urban fabric of Karachi’s land.

For example, many attribute the brutal murder of Orangi Pilot Project’s (OPP) Perween Rehman to the menace of land grabbing and her brave stand to secure land for deserving citizens. The Land Issue also documents that a total of 14 estate agents were killed in 2010 and 2011 alone.

The metropolis has witnessed a downward spiral in the quality of living for its more than 20 million inhabitants. For instance, the city’s residents are not served by a public mass transit system. While potable water demand is 1,080 million of gallons per day (MGD), only 580 MGD are being tapped from the Indus River and even from that about 35 per cent of the water is lost due to theft or leakage.

The urban governance construct has become corrupt with diminishing writ of the state. The Karachi Water and Sewerage Board itself has acknowledged the presence of illegal hydrants and claims to have closed nearly 200 such hydrants in the city. The state has weakened at the cost of an unregulated, unaccountable informal sector involved in both physical development and the provision of services. More alarming has been the replacement of the informal sector by a criminally-oriented set of actors.

The book highlights that at the core of the land crisis was the incapacity of relevant government agencies to meet the land ownership and housing needs of mostly low-income and marginalised communities of a city where 50.5pc of the residents live below the poverty line. While this inadequacy is one element contributing to the crisis, there are issues that have a larger urban governance footprint where land-based planning is motivated by accruing financial and political gains rather than being used as an instrument for providing social good for citizens. The Land Issue states that the old professional elite that controlled the development of the formal sector has been replaced by traders and traffickers while legally acquired funds have largely been superseded by those acquired through extortion. This has contributed to the informalisation of the sector processes while bribes in cash and kind are used to bypass or bend government rules to the extent that developers can make profits of over 150pc on land transactions alone.

The informal sector makes gains at the cost of a highly fragmented formal governance framework where land ownership, management and government functions in the city are spread across multiple agencies. As is documented in The Land Issue that in the case of the Goth Abad Scheme, villages that covered 0.8 hectares of land paid bribes to have their area increased by 30 to 50 times; approximately 1 to 1.2 million plots have been developed along the Northern Bypass mainly through the Goth Abad Schemes.

The situation is further fragmented by a lack of coordination and collective decision-making, and due to a wide array of laws, statutes and institutional framework. As the authors inform us, the Ka-rachi division currently covers 3,424 square kilometres and is governed by 13 different land management authorities.

As land has become the most important asset in the city, the authors indicate that control over its distribution and development has become a primary political and administrative objective, with con-tinuous adjustments being made to accommodate the demands of political parties, military institutions, religious pressure groups, transport operators, builders, developers and even international stakeholders.

The book focuses on the critical political undercurrents that generally complicate the city’s governance dynamics and also cast significant shadows on the politics of land with adverse consequences on all related sectors of growth. While a diversity of political entities have a presence in Karachi, the critical fault lines are drawn between the PPP and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) that merge with an ongoing clash between the province and the city with control over land finding centre stage.

The writers knit an organic spread to the conducted research by assessing and interfacing a number of aspects related with land. They include a review of all the laws, statutes and regulations relating to land management in Karachi, the house-financing scenario, the actors and factors concerning land-related conflicts, interviews with communities and government officials and an extensive compilation of data on land in Karachi gathered from visual and print media, observations from feature films and five case studies, all related to land issues in the city.

The authors do very well in bringing out very relevant cross-cutting aspects that have been less written about and then connecting them to a wider context. When analysing the housing-loan options scenario, they identify a major problem: while home loans are available, loans for purchasing land which allows people to build their houses incrementally and provides them with security of tenure and an asset, are unavailable. Common to all the nine housing finance institutions analysed is that they have been unable to cater to the needs of lower-income groups, which account for 70pc of the unmet needs for housing finance. This is mostly because such residents cannot fulfil requirements that include formal employment, registered business, or income tax certificates.

The Land Issue documents that members of the media, research bodies, legal profession, civil society and activists unanimously agree that key land actors in the metropolis, rather than developing and implementing master plans, land-use agreements and regulations have instead facilitated land-grabbing and land conversions, and have turned land in Karachi into a political and ethnic resource. A major issue brought out through the analysis of land-related discourse has been that land records do not depict real ownership and tenure patterns. With no proper documentation, using legal processes to implement the law becomes difficult, long and expensive — if not impossible.

While the existing land-related laws and statutes can support the development of equitable land policies in Karachi, the associated rules, regulations and procedures need to be simplified with the embedding of proper monitoring mechanisms to identify problems in implementation. The authors indicate that the land allocation processes used by local governments and landowning agencies lack transparency, and the auctioning of public land is also manipulated. It strongly demands that discretionary powers over land allocation need to be reviewed as they are the major impediment to the smooth functioning of the land market.

The writers also suggest that the housing-related banking sector needs to be reformed to provide incentives for the market to cater to the needs of low and lower-middle income groups. At a larger, overarching level, the writers ask for the establishment of a Karachi Division Planning Agency to coordinate the different landowning authorities and enact procedures as approved by the Karachi Development Plan 2000 in 1989. The aim would be for this body to represent all landowning agencies, establish consensus between them, and work in the larger interest of the city.

Karachi: The Land Issue


By Arif Hasan, Noman Ahmed, Mansoor Raza, Asiya Sadiq-Polack, Saeed Uddin Ahmed, and Moizza B.Sarwar

Oxford University Press, Karachi

ISBN 978-0199402083


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