Anti-encroachment drives against illegal housing and development projects have recently been making headlines in Pakistan. Land encroachment occurs when a property owner trespasses onto the nearby property by building or extending structures beyond their property’s boundary. Land encroachment is common in Pakistan due to outdated physical surveys and demarcation of land. It bears a heavy cost for the government as state land worth millions of dollars has been encroached in Pakistan. However, the cost of anti-encroachment drives by the government also carries a socio-economic price tag that our government is unable to pay.
The Extent of Land Encroachment in Pakistan
According to the results of the phase-1 survey of state lands under the digital cadastral mapping project launched by PM Imran Khan, land worth trillions of dollars has been encroached all over Pakistan. Report findings show that the total value of all encroached state land and those in the three major cities is 5.5 trillion PKR. The encroached land in the three major cities of the country, Lahore, Islamabad, and Karachi is worth 2.6 trillion PKR. In addition, encroached forest land is worth 1.86 trillion PKR. Pakistan’s share of forest land is 4% which is far less than the global average of 24%. Encroachment of forest land aggravates Pakistan’s existing lack of sufficient forest cover. Digital mapping has enabled the government to monitor the extent of land encroachment on state land and its economic effects as a whole.
The Government’s Response to Land Encroachment
According to Capital Development Authority (CDA), no one is allowed to encroach on the land under the charge of the CDA and put an immovable structure such as a hut, khokha or overhanging structure on any property without prior approval from the municipal authority. Under no circumstances, the free flow of pedestrian traffic in the verandahs of the markets of Islamabad can be obstructed. If anything is found causing obstruction, it shall be removed and confiscated at the cost and risk of the defaulter. Although this regulation has meaningful intentions, its defaulters are commonly poor people who do not have the financial liberty to invest in the rent of proper shops and other fixed assets to conduct their businesses.
Recently, the government has focused its efforts on reclaiming state land from encroachers. These efforts are also fuelled by the recent Supreme Court’s decision to allow demolition of infrastructure and other buildings on land encroachment cases of Nasla Tower and Gujjar, Orangi nullah. According to the Prime Minister, the state cannot retrieve illegally occupied land from encroachers without a thorough implementation of the rule of law. In addition, these anti-encroachment drives can also help attract investments from abroad as they will impart a positive sentiment regarding real estate regulations in Pakistan.
The Cost of Land Encroachment Drives
The anti-encroachment laws and regulations against illegal occupations are important; however, the recent government operations have contributed to a plethora of problems for the lower-income demographic. Thousands of shops in Karachi have been uprooted as they were found on encroached land. According to estimates, 3,575 shops were demolished in Karachi, affecting 17,500 workers. If a single worker provides a means of sustenance to seven people on average, the number of affected people will be 122,500.
Another factor that beats the purpose of the anti-encroachment drives in Pakistan is that 30-40% of its economy is informal, employing two million people. Pakistan suffers from severe unemployment, especially amongst its lower and middle-income classes. The encroached lands that have been a target of the government’s anti-encroachment drives were host to small businesses and shops. Some see these anti-encroachment drives with a sceptic lens and question the priorities of the government.
In recent years, Pakistan’s land prices skyrocketed and made it next to impossible for most people to purchase land for business or residence. A lack of a sound financing system, deregulation, and reduction of the state’s role in the provision of services have contributed to the problem.
Land encroachment is common in most urban areas. Much of this land has been encroached on by the middle and low-income demographic, who have been forced to settle on this land due to a lack of land available on affordable terms. However, blatant anti-encroachment drives by state authorities can render thousands of poor people jobless and homeless, which puts into question the efficacy of these drives.