Shelter for the Poor–Why organization and Knowledge Count?

In 1970 elections Pakistan People’s Party’s Chairman Mr. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto rallied poor masses around him by promising them Roti, Kapra aur Makan (bread, clothing and shelter). He came to power through a popular wave in 1972.  Mr. Bhutto for the first time in Pakistan’s history declared national policy for providing shelter to the poor. However, the poor and homeless are still struggling for the right to shelter and continuously combating evictions.

Pakistan’s experience like everywhere else in the world has proved that without organization and proper guidance people cannot exercise their right for shelter through legislation alone. Case in point is hundreds of families who faced the threat of eviction when the government announced the plans to start Karachi Circular railway for facilitating mass transit.  The Railway Authorities started the evacuation of Katchi Abadis in Lahore, Faisalabad and Karachi in 2000 during the tenure of Ex Federal Minister for Railway Javed Ashraf Kazi. Three settlements were evicted in Karachi which included Jumma Goth, Masoor Shah Colony and Raiti line which had about 400 houses. According to Mr. Rana Sadiq, General Secretary, All Pakistan Katchi Abadi Alliance (APKAA), there are about 30 settlements (40,000 houses) along the sides of KCR. All of these settlements were formed prior to March 23, 1985 and  according to Katchi Abadi Act 87 were entitled to ownership rights but the railway several times forcefully evacuated and evicted these settlements.

Commercial planners, developers and builders wanted to construct high rise buildings on the land along the KCR tracks. The Railway Police was given powers to remove encroachments along the railway tracks. The anti encroachment drive consisted of 2 phases i.e. removal of encroachments on commercial land and then campaign against Katchi Abadis. However nothing was done about the commercial plazas built on the railway land.

The evictions in 2000 caused panic among the dwellers of the Katchi Abadis. People’s Rights Movement (PRM) organized demonstration in front of Islamabad Press club in which the representatives of the Katchi Abadis participated from all over the country. Ex Federal Minister for Environment and local bodies (late) Mr. Omar Asghar Khan was also present there. A decision was made to establish a countrywide union which was named “All Pakistan Katchi Abadi Alliance” (APKAA).

Federal government in 2004 again announced the evacuation of Katchi Abadis along railway tracks as the policy decisions announced by the Chief Executive for the regularization and upgradation of Katchi Abadis in 2001 was not implemented. PR said that it would retain at least 70 feet wide strip beyond the track and within 130 feet area owned by PR would be regularized on payment of penalty amount (3000 per square yard) by the illegal occupants.

Evictions become possible because developers and land gabbers were supported by politicians and bureaucrats. Because of this support land record tampering, denial of new entries in the land records and theft of files creates land tenure disputes making police pressure on low-income settlements possible. This happens most often in locations where commercial development is lucrative.