And what the government is not doing
The issue of housing-for-the-poor is back with the demolition of the I-11 settlement in Islamabad. Not just the emotions pitted against the serious action by the state but careful policy questions are also being raised. The ensuing debate dragged Kachi Abadis of the capital as well as the ones present in the cities and villages of the provinces. After all and unfortunately, we are a country of slums and eviction is not the only threat to the inhabitants and not the only solution available to the government.
There are bigger questions attached to this. And in the arena, there are various actors that influence decision making, try to steal the agenda and watch vested interests as it involves one of the most precious commodities in the market — the land — and one of the most important incentives for human development a state can offer to its citizens – a clear and secure title of land.
While slums invite attention of all the sectors, the loudest call is always for the public sector. It is for its managers that regulate affairs of these towns under various policy programmes on granting ownership of land to the slum dwellers, announced from time to time by the government. One might think what happens after? Even such policies are in place but on the ground, little is delivered?
While slums invite attention of all the sectors, the loudest call is always for the public sector
Take, for instance, that the Punjab government promulgated its policy on regularisation of over two thousand urban and rural Kachi Abadis (official figures) in Punjab in 2012. Has it been successful in achieving the objectives? Three years have passed since then and the actual state of affairs would fail to impress us if we visit Punjab’s informal settlements. A vast majority of the inhabitants are still waiting for the proprietary rights promised to them in 2012. What are the trouble spots? Why hasn’t the programme come up to expectations?
First, we will have to look at the faulty foundation of the entire exercise – the database, the survey of Kachi Abadi dwellers. The task of constructing records of eligible inhabitants was performed by the infamous stakeholders of land administration system i.e., Patwaris. The surveys were found to be either sketchy, selective or carrying question marks on credibility for being made in connivance with the land mafia. There are cases of misreporting of data (to boast performance) which blurs the scenario and impedes a realistic audit by the top authorities.
Second is the coordination among the agencies involved in the process – the tehsil, district and provincial bodies. The issue had been on the tail of agenda in the district review committees responsible for taking stock of various activities in the districts. The provincial body has yet to take due appraisal of and compare the land titles granted and the dues/developmental charges deposited in the government treasury. This simple check could verify the reporting from the field offices. The district/tehsil implementation committees that brought on board the political leadership hardly met let alone resolved problems in the process.
We will also have to take care of the question whether the local regulators of slums were properly trained for the task of upgrading or not? There is no reference booklet or guiding manual of sorts available at hand for ready information of the executing agencies. A special cell that was to provide institutional succession and continuity of information remained absent. The policy exists as scattered memos from 2012 to date sometimes containing overlapping and overriding instructions.
One wonders why this initiative, which has enormous political returns for the leadership and huge socio-economic gains for the beneficiaries, has not been prioritised by successive governments?
Next to that is the involvement of local political leaders who ask for favours to their supporters regardless of their eligibility. This kind of ‘participation’ becomes a whole new challenge to deal with. In an atmosphere of hasty compliance from the top and judicial scrutiny, the executing officers felt enormously stressed out to get into an affair which had little reliability in their eyes. So ‘go slow’ becomes a norm among the executing officers when they see political priorities are changing. They often complain that the slum up-gradation programme was one of the slogans before the Elections 2013.
One wonders why this initiative, which has enormous political returns for the leadership and huge socio-economic gains for the beneficiaries, has not been prioritised by successive governments? It is important to know that the existing policy in Punjab is built on the lines that have not delivered in the past. It should not only be confined to land ownership as provision of civic infrastructure is another critical part of slums policy. Thus, a holistic picture has to be taken. The results can be much better if the amended policy framework adds some innovations from ICTs, integrates design and engineering solutions and brings in private finance under the overarching collaborative governance where all sectors work together to make this project a success.