The State Bank of Pakistan’s statistics show that the country is 9 million units short in the housing sector and 400,000 units are being added to the existing backlog each year. Most housing units among these are created for the privileged classes by excluding low income groups altogether. The problem is further cemented by uncontrollable growth of population and unemployment, which is becoming the main reason behind the poor finding no place to call a home of their own.

The need for affordable housing, especially for the low income group, is increasing across Pakistan and with more and more people finding it difficult to buy a residential unit, the issue may soon get out of hand if not dealt with properly. It is also giving rise to another sinister problem – the rise of katchi abadis(slums) in and around major urban centres. And regularizing these settlements is the need of hour for different reasons. Some are discussed below.

Reasons behind the rise of katchi abadis

Infrastructure development in Pakistan has been undertaken horizontally for decades, leaving little land in urban centers for conversion into affordable housing units or even apartment clusters. Less land and a swelling population adds up to properties becoming pricier, and expensive land means that the underprivileged can’t even dream of owning a house in city centers.

According to property web portal, average land prices in Lahore rose 13.64% in the past year, while prices of 5 marla and 10 marla plots rose by 16.73% and 25.26%, respectively. Karachi had similar results with an average rise of 23.4% in land prices.

This trend has in effect pushed the poor strata of society to encroach on government land in urban centres of Pakistan and develop katchi abadis with time.

According to stats, shared by ABAD, around 38 percent of Pakistan’s population lives in slums. The numbers are constantly increasing due to a major rural to urban migration.

Problems associated with katchi abadis   

In Pakistan, the image of katchi abadis is associated with criminal activities and diseases due to the poor living conditions of the dwellers in these shanty developments. Crime is an especially important factor behind the government’s policy of clearing these shanty developments. Criminal activities usually associated with katchi abadis in Pakistan include sale of drugs, bootlegging, harbouring people with criminal records and unchecked sale of arms and ammunition. In combination these factors lead towards the mainstreaming of negative trends in society which could be ended with the regularization of katchiabadis by the government.

Proposals for regularization of slums

The Pakistani government can take various steps to regularize hundreds of katchi abadis in the country by following some of the proposals given below:

·         Utilize at least 20 percent of the encroached land in katchi abadis to develop multi-storey flats for dwellers of katchi abadis. The remaining land can be reclaimed by the government and used for other purposes.

·         A detailed record of all katchi abadis in the country should be undertaken with immediate effect and the residents registered with the National Database and Registration Authority.

·         Involve large donors and organizations to construct affordable apartments on a fraction of land occupied by dwellers of katchi abadis and relocate them there.

·         In order to provide financial benefits to the poor dwellers of katchi abadis, the government can create small shops on the ground floor of the apartments and encourage the residents to start businesses there.

Further recommendations for regularization of katchi abadis

On a long term basis the government can construct small communities in rural areas of the country and relocate slum dwellers to those areas. It is important that the government also provides most basic necessities of life in these areas to restrict the trend of major rural to urban migration.In addition, one house per family should be allotted to the poor slum dwellers. No one should be allowed to own more than one house during and after katchi abadis have been regularized.Furthermore, land mafia should be completely expelled from a slum area that has been regularized through official channels.This will prevent criminal activities from taking roots in rehabilitated communities.

In order to develop the best possible living option for the poor and to prevent future mushrooming of katchi abadis in and around urban centres, Hyderabad’s Khuda Ki Basti scheme can developed in urban and semi-urban areas of the country as the first step towards regularization of katchi abadis around the country.