After a year of inaction against plazas for violating building bylaws, Lahore Development Authority (LDA) on Friday woke from its slumber to raise political controversy by sealing Alfatah Store on the charge of violating building by-laws. Eyebrows were raised since the LDA action came after Alfatah store owner Irfan Iqbal Sheikh announced his decision to join Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), emerging rival of Punjab’s ruling party Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N).
Change of loyalty, end of privileges: LDA sources said while the Alfatah Store management had constructed illegal structures in the basement and adjoining buildings, the store management’s amicable relations with PML-N meant LDA action was put on ice. Sources said the LDA had served Alfatah notices as per routine but had restrained action against the store. However, after the Alfatah owner pledged loyalty to Imran Khan, the decision to seal the store was taken.
After Friday prayers, PTI workers and Liberty Market businessmen in the proximity of LDA-built controversial Park and Ride Plaza, a case against which is still pending in court, led a protest against the sealing of Alfatah. Protesters besieged liberty roundabout and chanted slogans against the Punjab government for ‘revenge politics’ and providing no reasons for sealing the store. Protestors later unlocked the LDA seals and challenged authorities’ tit-for-tat. The protest was organised by Insaf Traders Wing (ITW) and PTI office-bearers, including PTI Lahore President Mian Mahmood-ur-Rashid, PTI’s Information Department Chief Ishtiaq Malik and ITW President Mustafa Rashid participated. Liberty Police Station registered case number 58/59 under Section 290-291 against Alfatah owner Irfan Iqbal Sheikh and 80 unidentified persons for protest and blocking the main road.
‘This is political victimisation’: Speaking to Pakistan Today, Alfatah owner Irfan Sheikh said the DCO Lahore had closed his store in the morning in an act of political victimization. He said the PML-N had victimised him for exercising his democratic right to choose a party. He said his store had operated in Liberty Market for decades, but neither the LDA nor another government department had raised objections on the question of the violation of building bylaws. He said no government department had ever issued a notice to the store management before sealing it. All-Pakistan Anjuman Tajiraan, Gulberg Traders Board, Hafeez Centre and Azam Cloth Market Traders and other traders associations joined the call for the government to undo its action immediately.
Alfatah’s building law violations: Officially, LDA Town Planning Wing staff sealed Alfatah Store, Commercial Zone, Gulberg III, for committing six building bylaws violations and failure to remove the illegal encroachments despite being served multiple notices by LDA. The High Rise Commission, appointed by the Supreme Court of Pakistan, had, after inspecting the structure, directed the demolition of Alfatah’s unauthorised constructions.
The LDA identified the following irregularities at the site;
(1) Illegal extension of basement under the front arcades to include extra space within the store. This is a non-compoundable illegality. The construction must be removed.
(2) Illegal extension/attachment of basement to two adjacent plazas, property 52 and 53, commercial zone, Gulberg III, against the sanctioned plan and without LDA approval.
(3) Building projected onto road side from first to top floor. The projection must be removed.
(4) Steel structure projection to create balcony and electric sub-station in rear balcony towards the road has to be removed.
(5) Arcades on front side raised which must be brought to normal level.
(6) Encroaching rear arcade by constructing wall and placing generator. Both must be removed.
LDA officials said the Alfatah building caught fire a few years ago causing huge losses. They said the LDA had served many notices to the owners to remove the building bylaw violations but to no avail and therefore the LDA took legal action on Friday to seal the building.
History: After the Margala Tower collapse in 2005, a 3-member Supreme Court commission comprising Justice (r) Riaz Kayani, architect Kamal Khan and UET VC nominee Tahir Ahmad identified over 1,100 high-rises violating building bylaws in 2009. Some 724 buildings were inspected in LDA-controlled area and recommended action against 551 buildings, including 149 total demolitions and 402 partial demolitions.
However, when former LDA director general Umer Rasool submitted his application to register corruption cases against building owners and LDA officials, figures were fudged, and the application claimed the SC commission had inspected 450 buildings, not 724 buildings.
The application reduced the number of recommended buildings from 551 to 291, with 214 partial and 77 total demolitions approved. LDA sources attribute the difference between the SC recommended 551 and LDA DG approved 291 buildings to a clandestine deal to protect the owners of 260 plazas.
SIX VIOLATIONS THAT SEALED ALFATAH:
1- Basement extended under front arcades
2- Basement extended into adjacent plazas without LDA approval
3- Building projected onto road side from first to top floor
4- Steel structure projection to create balcony, place electric sub-station in rear balcony
5- Arcades on front side raised
6- Encroaching rear arcade by constructing wall and placing generator.