Encroached Pakistan

Defining Encroachment:

Contrary to common knowledge, encroachment isn’t just illegal occupation. Encroached property is a term that can be used for any and all construction that doesn’t fall under the construction bylaws of the city. It is any real estate situation where a property owner violates contractual property rights by unlawfully entering, building, or even extending structures onto their neighbor’s land without permission. This includes the mandatory open spaces that are required to be left vacant for ventilation purposes, specified height of structures, and various other guidelines, the details of which can be found here.

Someone who builds a fence or makes an addition to their home despite knowing of the property lines does so intentionally. Encroachment can also be unintentional—when a property owner is either unaware of or has wrong information about legal boundaries. For instance, a property owner may unintentionally encroach on a neighbor’s property by allowing a hedge or a tree limb to grow beyond property limits.

Structural encroachment occurs when a property owner builds or extends a structure onto the public domain such as sidewalks or roads; This often results in serious consequences. In most cases, sidewalks and residential streets are generally public property owned by the municipal government. This means that a property owner who builds a driveway or erects landscape components—trees, bushes, and flowers—that encroach on public property, may have the structures removed by the government. Examples of a major encroachment would be extending a building over property lines or an unfortunate modification that could potentially cause serious injury. Major encroachment of this sort might lead to a situation that needs to be negotiated, authorized, or taken to court. 

Factors That Contribute To An Encroachment Crisis:

  • Real estate prices

Immigrants from almost every nook and corner of the country are moving to the cities in increasing numbers. They head towards the Metropolitans in search of jobs, business opportunities and a relatively better lifestyle than the one offered in their hometowns or villages. In a highly saturated and urbanised Karachi, where real estate prices and rents are skyrocketing, most immigrants readily give up on their comfort and prefer to settle down in illegal settlements (katchi abadis) in order to save some money to cover the rest of their expenditures. Those who come to the cities for business, setting up their carts or cabins on encroached land is the cheapest option available for them since the prices of shops in commercial areas are way out of their reach. Even established businesses run by the locals of these metropolitans violate building by-laws and they create more spaces by encroaching upon government land in order to facilitate their clients or customers. 

  • Urban Planning Shortfalls:

Pakistan is among the most urbanized countries of South Asia. With an urban population growing three percent per year, Pakistanis are flocking to cities faster than any other country in South Asia. By 2030, more than half of Pakistan’s projected 250 million citizens are expected to live in cities. As challenges mount, urban planning is gradually finding space in the policy discourse and previous oversights in this regard are becoming obvious. A clear miscalculation has been made in regards to commercial areas in metropolitans; In order to make more money out of residential plots, the development authorities in the country have left very few options for commercial activities. In such a highly saturated scenario, a businessman would either encroach upon government land or start a venture on a residential plot by paying heavy bribes to the officers concerned. This results in an urban landscape imbalance and the sporadic commercial activity on encroached land destroys the aesthetics of the city leaving very few open spaces for the general public to enjoy. Land management can be essentially described as the processes by which a country’s land resources are put to good use. State land management is inseparably linked with the elusive concept of public interest that seeks to advocate the welfare of collective social ownership rather than private interests. This problem can be easily avoided on a national scale by making it easier for businessmen to establish commercial setups.

  • Political motives

Almost every political party has contributed towards the systematic destruction of each of Pakistan’s metropolitan cities. In order to increase and strengthen their respective vote banks, political parties with mostly rural fan following brought in people from the villages of rural areas of the country and got them illegally settled in encroached land (katchi abadis) that was otherwise meant for public welfare. As a consequence to this, the political parties enjoying an exclusive urban electoral mandate started settling down their voters in a similar fashion: in illegally constructed housing societies or apartments. The issue of Gujjar Naala in Karachi was lingering on for the sole reason that one political party had its voters settled illegally along the banks of the naala resulting in frequent overwhelming of the narrowed down drain during monsoon season. A similar incident took place in Islamabad recently where private housing societies in Islamabad’s E-11 sector not only reduced the width of the nullah in E-11/2 but also altered its natural flow which led to urban flooding causing the death of a mother and child.

Anti-encroachment Initiatives:

The issue of land encroachments is recognised at a national level, given that the present government has laid special emphasis on ridding land, especially state land, of encroachers and earning revenue on it as is stipulated. The Government of Pakistan has undertaken an anti-encroachment drive (launched 2018-19) in response to the Supreme Court of Pakistan’s orders to recover encroached land. This movement puts forward the need to understand encroachments and their associated challenges and threats, both at the local and international level. 

Sometimes hard decisions need to be taken in order to address an issue that was hard to approach earlier. People will be displaced, businesses will be shut down and many will go jobless but in the longer run, malpractices and violations will come down significantly. Considering the seriousness of legality in this aspect, the rule of law must be implemented with an iron fist. This city has suffered just because the law enforcing authorities were lenient and had an extremely ‘accommodating’ attitude, therefore a plethora of civic problems have engulfed each city of Pakistan since the last few decades, leaving out just a handful of housing societies and neighbourhoods. For instance with the exception of Malir Cantt, DHA and a few neighbourhoods, Karachi is plagued with encroachments involving roadside restaurants, car showrooms, push cart vendors, illegal settlements and so on. 

While the gravity of this situation can not be undermined, on the other side of the informal and illegal aspect of encroachments, a human rights perspective should also be kept in mind to minimize the social and human cost of the drive. The problem needs to be tackled at a macro level without unfairly penalising individuals who were merely cornered by circumstances. The state must have a strong structural, development and planning back-up to ensure the resettlement and rehabilitation of encroachers by integrating them in different sectors of the economy. If this drive is successful and the move is a permanent one, our cities will have their beauty restored, history shall be preserved and the general public will get to enjoy more open spaces and sidewalks.

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