Katchi Abadi Residents Protest Unending Spate of Demolitions in Islamabad, Demand Right to Shelter

Islamabad: Katchi abadi representatives of various settlements across Islamabad held a press conference and peaceful protest at the National Press Club in Islamabad on Monday against the unending spate of summary evictions of katchi abadi residents across the federal capital by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) administration.

The latest spate of demolitions and dispossessions have come at an unprecedented pace with devastating consequences for informal settlements in the capital. Just in the last few months, significant portions of 7 settlements have been demolished, including: E-11 katchi abadi, a portion of village Chauntra near the Naval Headquarter, village Bheka Syedan in F-11, Pind Sangrial near Shah Allah Ditta, a katchi abadi near NUST, portion of village Tahlian Malpur, Jabba Taili near Zia Masjid and Dhok Khokhran near 26 number chungi. Four of these instances of demolitions were to create space for roads even though plenty of undeveloped land was available in the vicinity of these abadis or plans could have been changed to save these settlements if the state was to rightly prioritize the right to shelter as enshrined in the constitution.

Katchi Abadi Alliance chairperson Dr. Aasim Sajjad said that summary evictions have no placed in civilized society and working class residents of the federal capital are regularly subject to demolitions of their homes and livelihoods in the name of clearing ‘encroachments’. However, rich and powerful land grabbers, including state functionaries, operate with complete impunity, while a katchi abadi resident even has to make under-the-table payments to CDA, IESCO and other government department functionaries for perfectly legitimate matters like installation of electricity and gas meters. He said that this class apartheid is unacceptable and katchi abadi residents have as much right to the city as property developers and residents of elite neighbourhoods.

It was also noted in the protest that a significant number of these demolitions prioritize profit over people and working class people are being dispossessed under the false label of ‘encroachments’ to free up land. CDA and private developers have capitalized on the unreasonably high rents created by enforcing an exclusionary zoning policy, encouraging speculative investments and making road and infrastructure investments which the rich and private developers can profit off. For example, around 100 structures were demolished in Bheka Syeda, F11, so that the development authority can sell this land for a shopping center, clearly prioritizing revenue over housing.

Demolitions have been common in Islamabad’s planned sector where land disputes and poor management in land awards, unfair land acquisition practices and CDA-licensed informal abadis are arbitrarily allowed to develop (after collecting illegal rents from the city’s poorest) and then demolished. Now the scourge of enforced dispossession and demolitions has also picked up pace in Islamabad’s zones 4 and 5. In the village of Jabba Taili, close to Zia Masjid, CDA is acquiring land and demolishing homes of some of the most vulnerable populations to make way for a road leading up to Chak Shahzad and to provide improved access to farm houses. This is a clear and unjustifiable case of class wars where working class neighborhoods are being destroyed to create higher property values for private developers and elite residents of private housing societies and farm houses.

Similar upcoming demolitions are in the plans for the development of sectors E12, G12 and F12. These sectors were enabled by CDA to become de facto supply of land for the poorest segments of the city’s population since many migrant populations and victims of dispossession were allowed to settle here and build communities by paying informal rents to CDA and its enforcement wing.

Iqbal Jahan, general secretary Awami Workers Party Rawalpindi- Islamabad also expressed concern about the construction of thoroughfares like 10th and 11th Avenue which have already uprooted many working class settlements and threaten big katchi abadis like Rimsha Colony. He said that ‘development’ cannot be a pretext for the demolition of working people’s homes and that the Katchi Abadi Alliance is willing to work with the CDA to find workable solutions but will resist if summary evictions continue to be the authorities’ preferred method. The speakers asserted that the Supreme Court has in any case issued a stay order on summary evictions in the 2015 case that followed the demolition of I-11 katchi abadi.

Residents of France Colony, 66 Quarters G-7/2, Rimsha Colony H9, Muslim Colony I10 and a number of other katchi abadis also spoke on the occasion and shared various hardships that they confront on a regular basis, especially in the summer months when they are forced to live in squalor without electricity.

Ayesha Shahid of the Katchi Abadi Alliance said that there must be a shift in the long-term planning paradigm of the CDA so that working class residents are guaranteed affordable housing, particularly given the huge in-migration that is exacerbating the low-income housing shortage. She emphasized that the city needs to allocate land for non-market housing to create a stock of perpetually affordable housing for low-income settlements in all zones of the ICT. It also needs to be ensured that gated housing schemes reserve a certain percentage of plots for the low-income residents.

Bakhshal Thalho, general secretary Awami Workers Party said that it is essential that the settlements coming in the way of ‘development’ projects are accepted as an integral stakeholder in the planning and design process of these development projects and projects are co-planned with affectees to appropriately accommodate their right to shelter in the city. As the capital of the country, it is an embarrassing representation of the apathy of the rulers that Islamabad’s housing policy for the working classes is to eliminate and evict working class neighborhoods. The city needs a fundamental rethinking of its land allocation policies to recognize that the city needs its working class residents to operate, that rural-urban migration needs to be planned for, and working classes have as much of a right to the city as their rich counterparts.

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