Iftekhar A Khan
Housing societies exist on the ground from the day the boundaries are demarcated
The only profitable industry in the country seems to be the developing housing societies all around the large cities. Undoubtedly, the crisis of urban housing exists in the country, whose population is multiplying at a phenomenal rate. To accommodate the exploding population, should arable lands be sacrificed to build colonies? For example, pass through the Islamabad Toll Plaza on the motorway and you observe residential colonies being developed on both sides of the motorway.
Setting up a housing society is a lucrative business with windfall profits. Reportedly, the Capital Development Authority cancelled licenses of fourteen housing societies that failed to register with CDA. As mentioned, out of 200 housing societies in Islamabad only 22 are legal and 140 societies didn’t care to get registered. This is, as they say, under the ‘very nose of the government’. The owners of the societies who didn’t approach the CDA for registration were no ordinary individuals.
Housing societies exist on the ground from the day the boundaries are demarcated. The physical movement of men, materials and machinery is always visible to the people, unlike many other businesses conceived and concluded in offices. There are two main reasons for housing societies to thrive. First is the unstoppable increase in population and, second, the mass exodus of people moving from villages and small towns to main cities.
When the population multiplies in geometrical progression, those coming of age in small towns and villages are constrained to move to big cities in search of jobs however menial. For instance, innumerable young men of working age from the Saraiki belt are employed in bakeries or filling cars at gas stations in Lahore. Most of them live in groups in dingy rooms; they have to pay for electricity and gas besides the rent for the accommodation. The so-called elected ruling class of the country has little interest in the lives of this segment of society.
The question however arises why men of the same age from Sialkot don’t shift to Lahore or any other big city. Sialkot is an industrial city and people are gainfully employed and they don’t need to shift to other cities for jobs. I have a personal experience of dealing with some companies in Sialkot many years ago. The company I then managed exported hardware materials to the Middle East. I visited Sialkot very often, sometimes twice a week. I noticed a different working culture in that city compared to Lahore. Everybody, whether on foot, riding a motorcycle or driving a car was in a hurry. They had deadlines to meet; the companies they worked for had to ship materials abroad within the specified dates. The city on the whole was on the move and, as a result, looked prosperous.
It’s the primary duty of the government in power to plan ahead of time in the public interest. Controlling the population stringently and setting up industrial towns and cities in backward areas must be among the top priorities of every government. The prospective entrepreneurs could be enticed with tax exemption, lower power rates and relaxation in other government levies if they established industries in rural areas. When people found jobs near their homes, they would not shift to big cities. Similarly, if institutions to provide quality education and health services were set up in every tehsil, not many people would think of moving to big cities. It will drastically reduce the demand for urban housing and the colonisation of fertile agricultural land.
The Ravi Urban Development Authority represents a typical case of acquiring agricultural land for housing purposes. Ruda boasts of developing the country’s first largest riverfront 46kms in length and covering an area of 110,000 acres of fertile land. Farmlands, in this case, are forcibly acquired from the farmers and standing crops destroyed. Many of the owners of the land have filed cases in court against the illegal acquisition of their lands thus denying them their livelihood. Turning fertile agricultural lands into residential societies defies common sense. What boggles the mind is why to select this location adjacent to the provincial capital. Lahore is already overcrowded with housing societies located all around it. Why add the huge riverfront society to further overcrowd the city?