KARACHI: There’s Bollywood music blaring from somewhere. The tables at an outdoor tea stall are packed and waiters rush back and forth with steaming cups in hand. A corncob seller does brisk business at his pushcart. The street is full of cars and people. Every evening, this section of Tauheed Commercial in Defence Housing Authority Phase V throbs with activity, with the anticipation of making an overnight profit. It is a casino of sorts – except that instead of roulette and blackjack, it is a game of real estate that is creating the buzz. The name of that real estate: Bahria Town Karachi (BTK), a sprawling, upmarket gated community being constructed off the Super Highway in the outer reaches of Pakistan’s largest city.
Scores of real estate agencies line two or three streets in Tauheed Commercial, almost all of them emblazoned with the Bahria Town Ltd logo. Many among them are authorised dealers for Bahria Town real estate.
“A 125-square yard space in Midway Commercial has gone up by Rs.9 million in the two years since it came on the market,” said an agent about investment prospects in BTK. “In two years, I guarantee you, it’ll be Rs.80m.”
Another gleefully says that “there is almost no plot left unsold, even in the recently announced Sports City [a neighbourhood within BTK]”. Incidentally, one of these real estate agencies, run by two brothers, is also known for its very large hawala transactions for specific clients.
Even the registration forms for new projects in BTK are big business. According to a land official, “Each form can sell for over Rs.100,000, generating billions in sale and trade of the registration forms alone.”
The multibillion-rupee enterprise known as Bahria Town Karachi depends for its success on the brazen manipulation of the law by the political elite and land officials who, hand-in-glove with influential figures in the establishment, are using the state’s coercive powers to deprive rightful owners of their land.
To add insult to injury, all this skullduggery is being packaged as ‘development’.
Land authorities and Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd have colluded in violating multiple laws to facilitate a massive land grab in Pakistan’s largest city.
On March 19, around midday, several police mobiles led by Inspector Khan Nawaz surrounded Juma Morio goth, a small village of about 250 houses in deh Langheji, district Malir, about 13 kilometres north of the Super Highway. They were accompanied by bulldozers, wheel loaders and dump trucks.
Their objective: to demolish a number of huts and make way for a Bahria Town road through the village. “The job was quickly completed and the rubble hauled away while hapless villagers looked on in a daze, knowing full well there will be no justice for them,” said Ameer Ali, one of the residents.
Just two days earlier, the villagers had expressed their fears to Dawn that they would soon be forced from their land.
“The police have been arresting our people, threatening them that they’ll show their arrest as being from places such as Wana, Mastung or Kalat,” said Kanda Khan Gabol. “They took me into custody for several hours and only let me go when a crowd gathered and it seemed as if the highway would be closed down.”
The problems for the villagers began on Feb 9, when they had resisted the first attempt by personnel from Bahria Town and the Malir Development Authority (MDA) – accompanied by a large contingent of police and bulldozers – to have the way cleared for a road through Juma Morio.
In response, MDA officials lodged an FIR in which they accused Kanda Khan Gabol, Ameer Ali and a dozen other villagers of firing at them.
Even though the challan did not furnish, amongst other things, any proof of MDA’s ownership of the land in question, Judge Sher Muhammad Kolachi ordered the inclusion of Section 6(2)C(L)(M) of the Anti-Terrorism Act 1997 in the criminally defective FIR.
Many of the accused remain on the run and that was the reason, villagers claim, they were unable to resist the March 19 demolition.
Juma Morio is only the latest village to have fallen victim to such tactics to grab communal land that has been home to families since generations.
Villages in the surrounding area of district Malir are rife with similar accounts of residents being harassed and intimidated into selling or abandoning their land