23 September 2010

A glimpe into how the city works

City pages come and go, but it's rare to find a story that reveals to you how the a city like Lahore is actually run. Ali Raza has, for quite a while, been handling the environment beat at The News' Lahore office. I've been following him for some time now because he has the knack of finding real environmental stories where everyone else doesn't go beyond "cleanliness drives".

Ali Raza seems to have shifted beats because this piece today is about a the construction of a parking plaza behind Lahore's civil courts. Either way, it's one of those newspaper reports that, if you read between the lines, speaks volumes of how the business of government and urban planning is run in this city.

ETPB, commissioner tussle over parking plaza
By Ali Raza
The News, 23 September 2010 - Lahore Section

THE Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and the Lahore division commissioner have locked horns over the construction of a parking plaza as the board wants to complete the project while the commissioner terms it a security risk.

Sources in the ETPB said the board wanted to resume construction of a multi-storey building at one of its vacant plots on Dev Samaj Road while the Lahore division commissioner was not allowing it. The plot measuring 3 Kanal, 7 marlas and 58 Sq Ft bearing Khasra number 2486 belonged to Sir Dayal Singh College Trust and the property vests in the ETPB.

It is situated adjacent to the office of the Lahore division commissioner while other important buildings around this property are Punjab Civil Secretariat, Civil and Family Courts Complex (Aiwan-e-Adl), ETPB Head office, LDA’s building and Election Commission of Pakistan.

The plot in question is located behind the Lahore Civil Courts and sort of right between the head office of the ETPB and office the Commissioner, Lahore Division. This used to be where the DCO used to sit (the DCO has been moved to the Magistrates Court, which is where the old Deputy Commissioners office used to be).

A couple of years ago, when it was run by Mushraraff appointee General Zulfiquar, the ETPB auctioned off (or tried to auctions off some the properties in its portfolio. Remember, the ETPB was established after Partition to hold in trust all the lands and properties left behind by Hindu and Sikh migrants who, having overnight become non-Muslim community in a new Muslim country, thought it better to pull stumps and leave for the newly created India. Most of these properties were later transferred by the ETPB to Mulsim migrants who had abandoned their homes and their lives to come live in the newly created Pakistan but many, especially properties themselves dedicated for religious or charitable, were left for the ETPB to manage, as trustees, in furtherance of the wishes of the founders of those trusts and charities.

Because it manages so many properties of Hindu and Sikh religious significance, the ETPB has earned the nickname "Hindu Auqaaf" and which is why, the Diyal Singh Library in Lahore falls under the administrative management of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

All this is not to say that the folks over at the ETPB don't have a good nose for real-estate. In the mid-naughties (Is it fair to call this past decade of the 21st Century "The Naughties"?), when property markets shot through the roof, these folks must have persuaded the ETPB to get on the bandwagon. Dozens of notices were issued seeking expressions of interest from contractors and real estate developers in the many properties the ETPB has peppered all over the country. One of these properties was this little plot between the ETPB head office and what was then the office of the DCO. Given the parking and congestion problem caused by having a school, the DCO's office, the Civil Courts and the Lahore Development Authority Complex crammed together, someone must have thought a parking stand would be a great idea. For the ETPB, it was a great idea: It would raise revenue from the auction of the plot and then earn money through a toll-sharing arrangement with the parking thekaydar.

Sources in the EPTB said that the plan of constructing a 12-storey parking plaza on this plot was the brainchild of the former ETPB Chairman General Zulfiqar. They said construction on this plot was started during his tenure and a basement was completed.

After the general elections in 2008 the new government removed General Zulfiqar from the seat and ongoing construction work on the structure was stopped. Sources said the ETPB’s new chairman, Asif Hashmi, put the project on his top priority list and resumed the construction work, which was stopped by the town municipal administration Data Town on the pretext that building plan of the plaza was not approved.

Now here's the interesting thing. The ETPB undertook its auction and development plans without consulting any local government of LDA bye-laws. The law is clear: You can't just build a plaza without authority, and the DGB Town Administration had the authority to issue the order directing them to stop construction.

Now, don't get me wrong: I'm all for having something relieve parking congestion. I just don't think transforming trust property that was dedicated for religious or charitable purposes into a parking lot is the job of the ETPB; in fact it looks terribly close to breach of fiduciary duty). Also, the prohibition by the DGB Town must have had some element of wanting to charge "regularization fees" in order to turn their back on the bye-laws. This isn't surprising. It happens almost everywhere else.

What's interesting is that a local government took on the federally controlled ETPB.

Sources said the ETPB chairman took up the matter with the Punjab government and according to Asif Hashmi, Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Rana Mashud told him that Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif had shown his consent to allow the ETPB to construct the plaza.

Note how the new Chairman of the ETPB went to the Government of Punjab (my guess is that he must enjoy some patronage from the PPP federal government which gives him access to the PPP partners in this Government of Punjab's coalition government) and not to the DGB Town Administration. Under the law (that Punjab Local Government Ordinance, 2001), it's very clear that zoning and spatial plans are the sole jurisdiction of Town Administrations. Also what's interesting is that if one asks the Government of Punjab about building permission in Lahore, final authority apparently comes from the Chief Minister himself. That should tell you quite a lot about how the city and province is run.

However, Lahore Additional Commissioner Mirza Mahmood-ul-Hassan, on August 20, 2010, sent a letter captioning “Security threat-under construction building for car parking at Dev Samaj Road, Lahore” to the chairman, ETPB. The letter was also sent to principal secretary to the Punjab chief minister, Lahore DCO, DO (Spatial Planning and Commercialization), Lahore and other authorities concerned. After giving the technical details and ownership of the plot, the letter states, “Construction of parking plaza or any such building to be used for commercial purpose is likely to be a permanent hazard to the security of surrounding government offices.

Therefore it is not appropriate to construct any such building at the risk and cost of security of surrounding important government buildings.”

The local government does not envisage the office of Commissioner or Additional Commissioner. They are officers appointed under the Land Revenue Act, 1967 and don't have anything to do, technically, with the urban planning of the city. But the way it's working here now, the Chief Minister needed, when he took power, to control the development expenditure of elected local government Nazims. This he did by (i) waiting for the tenure of the elected representatives to expire and then; (ii) making Commissioners unofficial overseers of any development project in excess of Rs. 200 million.

But anyway, this is where the knives come out. The Commissioner's office issues notice to ETPB saying that "security" is the reason they can't build the parking plaza. Now I can't tell you how often "security" get bandied around to justify strong armed tactics. Everyone know "security" is just an excuse to stop something from happening. In this case, its stopping the ETPB from constructing a plaza on land that it owns. Of course, there's no law that authorizes public officials to affect property rights using "security" as an excuse.

The additional commissioner concluded the letter by saying that in view of the above, he was directed to request that the plot in question may be leased out to the provincial government for extension of government offices at a negotiated price.

Now this is hilarious. I had this client who was a member of the Model Town Residents Association. That's not the Model Town Society, but an independent association of Model Town residents who, it seemed, couldn't get elected to office in the Model Town Society. Anyway, they always have a gripe about how the Model Town Society is basically running the place right into the ground. Once I got a letter - said client copies me on all his correspondence with the Model Town Society - complaining about how the Model Town Society had allowed private individuals to operate billboards. "Billboards are illegal in Model Town", raged my client's letter, "and moreover, the Model Town Society was charging less than market rates for it."

So, not only is it wrong, but you're not charging enough for it. What chutzpah.

It's exactly the same for the Additional Commissioner. After telling the Chairman of the ETPB that they couldn't use the plot to build on because of the security situation, the Additional Commissioner's asking whether the ETPB would auction the plot to them. If what looks like a duck and walks like a duck IS a duck, then this is highway robbery.

Seems none of the legal teams for the ETPB Additional Commissioner are familiar with the rigorous procedure to be followed before the ETPB can auction it's land.

ETPB Chairman Asif Hashmi while talking with The News accused that the Punjab government through the City District Government Lahore and its officials was trying to take possession of this prime land but the ETPB would not allow this ‘daylight robbery.’ He said the government machinery was using various tactics, including arrests of labourers and contractor of the site to pressurise the ETPB to lease out the land to it. He said the ETPB was a federal department and Punjab government could not take possession of the land without the consent of the ETPB and federal government.

So I said highway robbery and the Chairman used the phrase "daylight robbery". Same difference. But leaning on labor; that's extortion.

Answering to a question about the letter of additional commissioner who termed construction of the plaza a security risk, he said the presently abandoned site was a security risk and anyone including terrorists could hide in it. He said rainwater had filled the basement of the plaza which was a security risk for the nearby buildings. He said another real security risk outside the Secretariat was the parking of all kind of vehicles on main Multan Road outside Aiwan-a-Adl. “Why the government is not taking any measures to remove these present security risks,” he questioned. He said the ETPB wanted to construct a 12-storey plaza on the land out of which basement of the plaza and two floors would be used for parking while flats and offices would be constructed on the rest of the floors. When contacted, the Lahore division commissioner was not available for comments.

Another example of hyperbole and prejudice being passed off as knowledge. The "it's dangerous because terrorists could hide in it" argument was used by the Government of Punjab when it cut down some of the trees in GOR-I after building a wall around it. It was the argument they put forward when they ripped the sidewalks out of GOR-I (because terrorists could plant bombs under them!) and to protect their action.

27 May 2010

Water and Irrigation in Pakistan

An enlightening talk by Dr. Danish Mustafa of Kings' College London

05 April 2010

War or Peace on the Indus

Dr. John Briscoe is a former World Bank official who specialized in water. He is now the Gordon McKay Professor of Environmental Engineering, Harvard University.

Dr. Briscoe makes a strong case regarding water sharing between India and Pakistan through the Indus Water Treaty. It is cool calm voice in a sea of hysteria, and it should be given serious consideration.

Taken from The News (http://www.thenews.com.pk/arc_news.asp?id=9&arc_date=4/3/2010)

Anyone foolish enough to write on war or peace in the Indus needs to first banish a set of immediate suspicions. I am neither Indian nor Pakistani. I am a South African who has worked on water issues in the subcontinent for 35 years and who has lived in Bangladesh (in the 1970s) and Delhi (in the 2000s). In 2006 I published, with fine Indian colleagues, an Oxford University Press book titled India's Water Economy: Facing a Turbulent Future and, with fine Pakistani colleagues, one titled Pakistan's Water Economy: Running Dry.

I was the Senior Water Advisor for the World Bank who dealt with the appointment of the Neutral Expert on the Baglihar case. My last assignment at the World Bank (relevant, as described later) was as Country Director for Brazil. I am now a mere university professor, and speak in the name of no one but myself.

I have deep affection for the people of both India and Pakistan, and am dismayed by what I see as a looming train wreck on the Indus, with disastrous consequences for both countries. I will outline why there is no objective conflict of interests between the countries over the waters of the Indus Basin, make some observations of the need for a change in public discourse, and suggest how the drivers of the train can put on the brakes before it is too late.

Is there an inherent conflict between India and Pakistan?

The simple answer is no. The Indus Waters Treaty allocates the water of the three western rivers to Pakistan, but allows India to tap the considerable hydropower potential of the Chenab and Jhelum before the rivers enter Pakistan.

The qualification is that this use of hydropower is not to affect either the quantity of water reaching Pakistan or to interfere with the natural timing of those flows. Since hydropower does not consume water, the only issue is timing. And timing is a very big issue, because agriculture in the Pakistani plains depends not only on how much water comes, but that it comes in critical periods during the planting season. The reality is that India could tap virtually all of the available power without negatively affecting the timing of flows to which Pakistan is entitled.

Is the Indus Treaty a stable basis for cooperation?

If Pakistan and India had normal, trustful relations, there would be a mutually-verified monitoring process which would assure that there is no change in the flows going into Pakistan. (In an even more ideal world, India could increase low-flows during the critical planting season, with significant benefit to Pakistani farmers and with very small impacts on power generation in India.) Because the relationship was not normal when the treaty was negotiated, Pakistan would agree only if limitations on India's capacity to manipulate the timing of flows was hardwired into the treaty. This was done by limiting the amount of "live storage" (the storage that matters for changing the timing of flows) in each and every hydropower dam that India would construct on the two rivers.

While this made sense given knowledge in 1960, over time it became clear that this restriction gave rise to a major problem. The physical restrictions meant that gates for flushing silt out of the dams could not be built, thus ensuring that any dam in India would rapidly fill with the silt pouring off the young Himalayas.

This was a critical issue at stake in the Baglihar case. Pakistan (reasonably) said that the gates being installed were in violation of the specifications of the treaty. India (equally reasonably) argued that it would be wrong to build a dam knowing it would soon fill with silt. The finding of the Neutral Expert was essentially a reinterpretation of the Treaty, saying that the physical limitations no longer made sense. While the finding was reasonable in the case of Baglihar, it left Pakistan without the mechanism – limited live storage – which was its only (albeit weak) protection against upstream manipulation of flows in India. This vulnerability was driven home when India chose to fill Baglihar exactly at the time when it would impose maximum harm on farmers in downstream Pakistan.

If Baglihar was the only dam being built by India on the Chenab and Jhelum, this would be a limited problem. But following Baglihar is a veritable caravan of Indian projects – Kishanganga, Sawalkot, Pakuldul, Bursar, Dal Huste, Gyspa… The cumulative live storage will be large, giving India an unquestioned capacity to have major impact on the timing of flows into Pakistan. (Using Baglihar as a reference, simple back-of-the-envelope calculations, suggest that once it has constructed all of the planned hydropower plants on the Chenab, India will have an ability to effect major damage on Pakistan. First, there is the one-time effect of filling the new dams. If done during the wet season this would have little effect on Pakistan. But if done during the critical low-flow period, there would be a large one-time effect (as was the case when India filled Baglihar). Second, there is the permanent threat which would be a consequence of substantial cumulative live storage which could store about one month's worth of low-season flow on the Chenab. If, God forbid, India so chose, it could use this cumulative live storage to impose major reductions on water availability in Pakistan during the critical planting season.

Views on "the water problem" from both sides of the border and the role of the press

Living in Delhi and working in both India and Pakistan, I was struck by a paradox. One country was a vigorous democracy, the other a military regime. But whereas an important part of the Pakistani press regularly reported India's views on the water issue in an objective way, the Indian press never did the same. I never saw a report which gave Indian readers a factual description of the enormous vulnerability of Pakistan, of the way in which India had socked it to Pakistan when filling Baglihar. How could this be, I asked? Because, a journalist colleague in Delhi told me, "when it comes to Kashmir – and the Indus Treaty is considered an integral part of Kashmir -- the ministry of external affairs instructs newspapers on what they can and cannot say, and often tells them explicitly what it is they are to say."

This apparently remains the case. In the context of the recent talks between India and Pakistan I read, in Boston, the electronic reports on the disagreement about "the water issue" in The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Hindu, The Indian Express and The Economic Times. (Respectively, http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/Water-Pakistans-diversionary-tactic-/articleshow/5609099.cms, http://beta.thehindu.com/news/national/ article112388.ece, http://www.hindustantimes.com/News-Feed/india/River-waters-The-next-testing-ground/Article1-512190.aspx, http://www.indianexpress.com/news/Pak-heats-up-water-sharing/583733, http://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics/nation/Pak-takes-water-route-to-attack-India/articleshow/5665516.cms.)

Taken together, these reports make astounding reading. Not only was the message the same in each case ("no real issue, just Pakistani shenanigans"), but the arguments were the same, the numbers were the same and the phrases were the same. And in all cases the source was "analysts" and "experts" -- in not one case was the reader informed that this was reporting an official position of the Government of India.

Equally depressing is my repeated experience – most recently at a major international meeting of strategic security institutions in Delhi – that even the most liberal and enlightened of Indian analysts (many of whom are friends who I greatly respect) seem constitutionally incapable of seeing the great vulnerability and legitimate concern of Pakistan (which is obvious and objective to an outsider).

A way forward

This is a very uneven playing field. The regional hegemon is the upper riparian and has all the cards in its hands. This asymmetry means that it is India that is driving the train, and that change must start in India. In my view, four things need to be done.

First, there must be some courageous and open-minded Indians – in government or out – who will stand up and explain to the public why this is not just an issue for Pakistan, but why it is an existential issue for Pakistan.

Second, there must be leadership from the Government of India. Here I am struck by the stark difference between the behaviour of India and that of its fellow BRIC – Brazil, the regional hegemon in Latin America.

Brazil and Paraguay have a binding agreement on their rights and responsibilities on the massive Itaipu Binacional Hydropower Project. The proceeds, which are of enormous importance to small Paraguay, played a politicised, polemical anti-Brazilian part in the recent presidential election in Paraguay. Similarly, Brazil's and Bolivia's binding agreement on gas also became part of an anti-Brazil presidential campaign theme.

The public and press in Brazil bayed for blood and insisted that Bolivia and Paraguay be made to pay. So what did President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva do? "Look," he said to his irate countrymen, "these are poor countries, and these are huge issues for them. They are our brothers. Yes, we are in our legal rights to be harsh with them, but we are going to show understanding and generosity, and so I am unilaterally doubling (in the case of Paraguay) and tripling (in the case of Bolivia) the payments we make to them. Brazil is a big country and a relatively rich one, so this will do a lot for them and won't harm us much." India could, and should, in my view, similarly make the effort to see it from its neighbour's point of view, and should show the generosity of spirit which is an integral part of being a truly great power and good neighbour.

Third, this should translate into an invitation to Pakistan to explore ways in which the principles of the Indus Waters Treaty could be respected, while providing a win for Pakistan (assurance on their flows) and a win for India (reducing the chronic legal uncertainty which vexes every Indian project on the Chenab or Jhelum). With good will there are multiple ways in which the treaty could be maintained but reinterpreted so that both countries could win.

Fourth, discussions on the Indus waters should be de-linked from both historic grievances and from the other Kashmir-related issues. Again, it is a sign of statesmanship, not weakness, to acknowledge the past and then move beyond it. This is personal for me, as someone of Irish origin. Conor Cruise O'Brien once remarked, "Santayana said that those who did not learn their history would be condemned to repeat it; in the case of Ireland we have learned our history so well that we are condemned to repeat it, again and again."

And finally, as a South African I am acutely aware that Nelson Mandela, after 27 years in prison, chose not to settle scores but to look forward and construct a better future, for all the people of his country and mine. Who will be the Indian Mandela who will do this – for the benefit of Pakistanis and Indians – on the Indus?

02 April 2010

How the (more than) other half lives

Two weeks ago, on the 20th of March, a fire broke out in Shanti Nagar, a slum in Gulshan-e-Iqbal in Karachi. Locals informed the fire department of the incident almost immediately, but by the time the fire trucks arrived – and whether their delay was caused by their inefficiency or because they had to negotiate the crowd that had gathered on the scene – there was nothing left but the ashes of over 300 shanties.

Shanties to you and me, but shelter to nearly 3,000 people, all of whom were left without homes. Some managed to save their belongings before the fire came. Some did not. Since the event happened in the afternoon, most adults were away, working, and their children left at home. Some unattended. Seven-year-old Danish's life was taken when the flames engulfed his home. Ten to fifteen other children were unaccounted for. Several others were injured.

It is impossible to quantify or relate to something as traumatic as the fire, the loss of life and the traumatic displacement of an entire community at Shanti Nagar. Arif Hasan, the eminent urbanist, once told an assembled audience in Lahore that there was nothing like a forced eviction; that they had to see one to really know what it meant. Of course, Hasan was not talking of people displaced because of things like fires or natural disasters. He was talking of people forcibly removed from their homes for the sake of "development", like when the officials of the Office of Education of the City District Government Lahore, on March 19, demolished some eight homes near the Lady Maclagan School on Bank Road to make space for the proposed new block of classrooms. That's not to say that the communities displaced in Shanti Nagar are any more or less traumatised than the families that were deemed to be illegal squatters on the property of the Lady Maclagan School. It is to say that the displacement by any means is traumatic.

The problem with slums, and there are many problems with slums, is that, as a rule, their inhabitants do not possess proprietary rights. Because they are not the owners of their shanties, their occupation sits at odds with the machinery of the state and the understanding of its laws. If someone doesn't have rights in property, how can he be said to have lost it? The machinery of the state does not look at the occupants of slums with a sympathetic eye. The same is true for the occupants of the homes demolished inside the Lady Maclagan School in Lahore. The land belongs to the City District Government of Lahore and, therefore, if the EDO (Education) deems it necessary to build a new block of classrooms, that is that. Occupation or not, homes or not, the cries of families being thrown to the wolves or not, the structures were "illegally occupied" and so the demolition team did not even have to inform the occupants of their decision.

The fact is that displacements, and the trauma that accompanies them, are everyday occurrence in Pakistan. If not at the hands of the elements and natural disaster (the flooding of the Leh Nullah in Rawalpindi routinely displaces hundreds), then at the hands of the numerous "encroachment drives" under the guise of "development".

The issue that appears is not of rights, but equity and morality. Cities in this part of the world, until recently, have been the exception and not the norm. Through history, with few exceptions, South Asians have been an agricultural and rural people. Now, we are told that over thirty five per cent of the people of Pakistan live in cities, and that in the near future, this figure will shoot past fifty per cent. At the same time, we have to understand how, as exceptions to the rule, our cities have grown. As the preferred space of the political, business and social elites, our cities have been occupied by a small but disproportionally influential set of elites. They have grown on the whim of whomsoever has had the occupancy of the civil secretariat or the position of general officer commanding the station. They have grown along the lines of a vision firmly set in the status quo.

But that is set to change. It must. The fact that slums exist is a proof of the fact that our cities are misallocating their resources in favour of a privileged few. For example, if one were to examine the footprint of the city of Lahore, they would find that a (incidentally elite) minority of the people live in the majority of the space occupied by housing schemes, cantonment boards and Defence Housing Authorities. Given the expected urbanisation of Pakistan, which is already the most urbanised country in South Asia, the pressures its new inhabitants will have on existing housing availability, sanitation, healthcare and educational services, employment opportunities and recreational spaces will be immense. Already, substantial proportions of the current and expected urban population live in slums or in unhygienic conditions. In Punjab, almost fifty per cent of the urban population lives in slums. In Karachi, I've been told that nearly seventy per cent of the population lives in slums.

The displacement of people for whatever reason is not without its cost. David Harvey, the noted academic and geographer in his recent seminal article 'The Right to the City' traces the history of urban displacement and links it firmly with urban violence. For example, Hausmann's Paris may have been the "city of lights" and the envy of every city back in the 1850s but the trauma of the displacements it caused, not to mention the economic disaster that was France's loss of the Franco-Prussian War, saw the birth of the Paris Commune. Similarly, readers are reminded of the fact that New York City in the 1970s was one of the most dangerous cities in the world and, in 1975, actually suffered bankruptcy. Harvey can trace these events to the trauma caused by massive displacements in the name of urban development undertaken in the preceding decades.

The overarching issue to be tackled is one of urban poverty and the effect it will have on the future of our cities. In Pakistan, with all the displacements effected and taking place, with the inequality in our cities increasing, we are lucky to have been spared the specter of urban violence (Karachi has nothing on, say, Rio de Janeiro, where some of the city's elite prefers to helicopter to work than take their chances on the favela mobs waiting for the opportunity to kidnap a millionaire). At some point, the Right to the City will have to be acknowledged and made part of a larger political debate.

In 1890, Jacob Riis published his work of photojournalism, "How the Other Half Lives", and documented the squalid conditions in which the inhabitants of New York City's tenements were forced to live. Condemned as muckraking journalism, it exposed the living conditions of the urban poor to the middle and upper classes of the city. But it was also powerful enough to attract the attention of, amongst others, Theodore Roosevelt, who used it as a basis to launch reform in housing in the city. When will our "How the Other Half Lives" be published?

19 February 2010

Scandal in the Real Estate Development Market

The dirty secret of Pakistan’s urban development finally got its first public airing the other day. District and Sessions Judge Mazhar Hussain Minhas completed the inquiry ordered by the Supreme Court of Pakistan and has submitted a 115 page report on how a handful of property developers and private housing schemes managed to acquire almost 30,000 kanals of land in and around Islamabad.

The newspaper report I read referred to the acquisitions as “illegal” and equated the practices employed in acquiring this land as with “scenes of land grabbing seen only in Indian films.”

Everyone is familiar with the manner in which private housing schemes have taken advantage of the huge demand for housing and cheap and plentiful labor and peri-urban land. Our cities sprawl out for miles, eating up thousands of acres of agricultural land and rendering even more sterile and polluted as a result. Because they are automobile dependent, their commuting residents add to already chocking traffic congestion and air pollution. Because the houses built in these suburbs are, like all the houses in Pakistan, energy inefficient, they increase electricity and natural gas consumption and stress our already limited energy resources.

But now, confirming rumors that have been whispered for years, Judge Mazhar Hussain Minhas has named Bahria Town, the Defence Housing Authority and Habib Rafique as the main players in the sordid sage of urban development. They are said to have deprived hundreds of people and the state of valuable land in connivance with the police, revenue authorities and even elements in the lower judiciary.

Arif Hasan, in his excellent paper on The World Class City, identified the property developer and real-estate agent as the evolution of the black-marketeer in our globalized world. According to Hasan, when the WTO regime kicked in and free-trade became a global mantra, the floor gave out from under the black-market in smuggled goods. Out of a job, the former smugglers and black marketers turned to the next big business that offered big returns and was totally free of government regulation: property development.

It never fails to amaze me how, in this Islamic Republic, it is next to impossible to do anything without relying on someone licenced or registered. If I want to have my teeth cleaned, I have to look up a licenced dental professional. If I want to build a house, I must work with an architect registered with the PCATP or the relevant development or housing authority. If I want an opinion on anything legal, I must refer to a licenced lawyer. If I want to invest in a Rs. 10 share of a company, I have to use a registered stock broker. Even if I want to buy eggs, my shopkeeper has to have a valid licence from his local government. The examples are endless. But if I need to conduct a billion Rupee property transaction, the property dealer involved needs no licence. It seems out laws do not require people who deal in property to have any minimum qualifications or experience. It is as if our laws want the property business to be unregulated.

The situation being as it was, the black market economy morphed, according to Arif Hasan, into property development. The people that once smuggled gold and contraband in and out the country now took their money to the cheap land on the outskirts of town. At the same time, loans from multilaterals like the World Bank, the IMF and the ADB for the purpose of urban infrastructure brought “development” to city centers and, in the process, made them prohibitively expensive to live in. The politics of relocation of the urban poor as a result of “development” is only now being understood. The Bahrai/DHA/Habib Rafiq dealings add their own, unique, chapter to this ongoing saga.

According to reports, these developers misused the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, did not follow its procedures, did not compensate people with the market rates of the land, subdued any criticism by using their private militias (and sometimes even the assistance of local police) and harassed people by filing false criminal cases against them. According to reports, these developers and their brigades of retired army officers had even the means and the reach to manipulate the administration of justice. Judge Minhas is said to have noted that the Revenue Department “was completely under the thumb of” Bahria Town.

These developers have caused harm to the life and property of citizens. By manipulating the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, their acquisitions amount to a fraud on the Constitution of Pakistan. Article 24 of the Constitution prohibits the State from taking the property of any of its citizens save for a public purpose and save under the authority of a law that provides for compensation for such taking. But eminent domain is abused if the so-called “public purpose” is housing the affluent or of compensation is not equitable.

All this happened in the golden days of Pakistan’s property boom. It was no surprise that, at the time, property developers made hay. Many were even, like in the case of Lahore’s Town Nazims, covering their bases by becoming part of the political setup. Personally, I can only regret not having seen the shenanigans for what they were. So often, what goes wrong in the world is on account of the fact that right thinking people keep their mouths shut.

What the submission of Judge Minhas’ report makes clear, however, is that it is time to reform the property business in Pakistan. We must not allow people to live out their dream of building and owning a house to be built on the blood and misfortune of others. Already the situation is scandalous. There are, for example, whole villages and hamlets that have been closed by the DHA’s cement walls in the new Phases being built in Lahore. These are the homes of people who refused to resettle, come hell or high water, when the DHA behemoth along with its version of Enlightened Pakistan.

Like the case of Charrar Pind, now in the heart of Lahore’s DHA, we must not let urban development deprive others of their livelihood. Charrar was a little village on the outskirts of what was once the Kot Lakhpat Reserved Forest. It was gradually surrounded by the Lahore Cantonment Cooperative Housing Society and its successor, the DHA. It’s people were compensated, but not given any opportunities to integrate with the new high-income residential economy. If someone knew how to drive a tractor, he probably got a job as a driver. If one was a sharecropper, they could eek out a living as a gardener. Many women found jobs as maids. Now, there are check posts outside its entrances, as they are on all the entrances and exits of high-end residential schemes, and domestic staff employed in DHA now needs to be registered. Whenever there is a crime in DHA, the people of Charrar are generally held to blame. We must not let urban development exacerbate social inequality and the gradual criminalization of its victims.

It is time to regulate the property business. It is time to ensure that those who trade in property, who earn commission from its sale, are competent and qualified. This, among other things, is the most important step to take. There needs to be a real estate practitioners council, just like there is a Medical and Dental Practitioners Council and the Pakistan Bar Council, that will monitor and enforce the activities of its members.

It is time to bring clarity into our property law. It is time to make the process resulting in the registration of title simple. If we can make the sale and purchase of land easy and outside the grips of manipulators and frauds, we can unlock the massive potential these frozen assets have.

It is time to think about what development means. It is time to stop spending money on the minority elite and begin designing our cities so that they can act in the aid of the many millions who deserve a better quality of life. We must start investing in public transport. Provincial Government money must be directed towards sanitation and sewerage programs. Local governments need to find means of unlocking the potential of the urban economy.

It is also time to sit down and reflect the damage that has been done, not just by the developers named in the Judge Minhas report, but by ourselves, as residents of cities that create the market for such monsters.

18 January 2010

Small farmers face brunt of dry spell

Eye-opening article by Imran Ali Teepu in Dawn (17 January 2010)

ISLAMABAD: The changing weather system has further added to the difficulties of small farmers in the Potohar region who primarily depend on rainwater for their meagre production.

And the Met Office does not foresee any immediate relief for them as it forecast that the current dry spell would continue for another week or so.

An official of the Pakistan Metrological Department told Dawn that after crossing the two stages of drought - metrological and hydrological - the country was now entering the emerging agricultural drought stage.

“This is an agriculture drought which occurs when rainfall amount and distribution, water reserved in soil and evaporation combines to start affecting crops.”

The Barani areas, he said, were already experiencing crop failure and were under severe agricultural drought.

He said this is an El-Nino factor which was developed in June 2009 and suppressed the monsoon rainfall in the country by about 30 per cent and was likely to continue till next year.

El-Nino effect is an invasion of warm water into the surface of the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Peru and Ecuador every four to seven years that causes changes in local and regional climate associated with a positive anomaly.

The Met official further said that since the end of monsoon rainfall, which too was deficient, most parts of Pakistan except some areas had not received any significant rainfall.

For a poor farmer, the investment of Rs30,000 on a single crop is a substantial amount when adverse weather conditions put at risk his hope to earn profit.

Raja Ilyas has pinned all his hopes on the three kanals of his Barani agricultural land in the Panwal village. “If it doesn’t rain, I don’t know how to feed my children,” said the dejected 48 years old, looking towards the sky and praying for rain that could breathe life into his land.

Ilyas is not the only small-scale farmer living on the outskirts of Islamabad desperately waiting for rain.

Many others who have been engaged in the profession for the last three generations and own less than ten kanals can fall under heavy debts and would be forced to buy wheat from the markets if there is no rain. They also fear of their animals falling sick if the drought persists.

These small farmers have no other alternative and even cannot bear the cost of boring in search of water. “The current drought-like situation is an impact of climate change,” said Dr Zulfiqar, an environment researcher at the Quaid-i-Azam University.

He attributed the dry spell to concentration of green house gases in the air and the unchecked population growth. Pakistan’s per capita water availability is also decreasing. It was 2,000 cubic metre a few years ago which has now decreased to 1,350 cubic metre - a danger level, he added.

In reply to a question, Dr Zulfiqar said the rain dependant farmers should go for micro-boring to meet the challenge of water shortage.

15 January 2010

Cross-cultural interaction

So this lady just called me to invite me to a lecture on Cross-Cultural Currents hosted by the Asian Study Group and says to me, perfectly matter of fact: "Rafay, if you know any "goras", can you bring them along." Then, I think, she understood she had sounded like and clarified: "It's for cross-cultural interaction, you know" and tried to laugh it off. The effect was to get her even more stuck into what she had meant.

My oh my, how The Rascism works both ways.