Land grabbing has become endemic in the federal capital due to the ostrich-like attitude adopted by the city managers. One of the main reasons making the Capital Development Authority a silent spectator to the menace is that land grabbers are mostly influential people, politicians and senior retired military officials against whom the civic body cannot take action easily.
However, the Supreme Court on Friday came hard on the city managers and left them without any excuse to ensure its writ and get vacated state land from adverse possession which is said to be about 20,000 acres.
CDA Chairman Imtiaz Inayat Elahi appeared before the court and tried to present lame excuses. He said land grabbing had been done before he took charge and, therefore, he was not responsible for it. On this, the court made it clear to him that as the incumbent custodian of the city it was now his duty to retrieve the state land. Mr Imtiaz expressed his inability to do so, saying the civic body had no money to pay to the landholders or grabbers as compensation because they were demanding current market rates for their land acquired decades back. On this, the apex court directed him to charge monthly or annual rent from the landholders with effect from the time the authority announced the award of their land and paid them the compensation.
Unfortunately, not only the current CDA bosses but also their predecessors intentionally neglected land grabbing and encroachment right under their nose.
Most people believe that CDA cannot meet the task given by the apex court. But constant and vigilant check by the Supreme Court backed by the much-needed political will can `make the mare go`.
They called the order of the apex court a blessing as it is for the time in the history of Islamabad that the issue has been taken at such a highest level. It can give strength to those officials of the civic agency who really want to retrieve state land and make their new plans on it. But on the other hand, it is a task the CDA bosses wanted to put off for the next to come.
The current CDA management, which cannot claim much to its credit in terms of uplift in the city, will find it very hard to ignore the court order by adopting delaying tactics especially in the presence of a vigilant and vibrant media and watchdogs in civil society.
The three-member bench comprising Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, Justice Ghulam Rabbani and Justice Khalilur Rehman Ramday while disposing of the case of 80 kanals park land in Malpur, which the CDA got vacated in two days reportedly from PPP leader Nayyar Bokhari, gave the gigantic task to the CDA chief to make efforts to get possession of other encroached land.
Real state experts have termed the court decision a `historic` one as it gave a guideline to the city managers to remove encroachment from state land.
During the hearing of Maulpur land case, the CDA chairman informed the apex court that they had taken possession of 80 kanals park land from different encroachers but still about 20,000 acres land was in the illegal possession of a number of people in different sectors of the city. Though the CDA chief put the figure at 20,000 acres; nobody knows the actual area under illegal possession in the capital.
It has been learnt that the CDA would start re-occupying its land from Malpur and Bani Gala where the number of encroachers is comparatively less than that in other areas including F-12, G-12, D-13, D-11, F-14 and some land in D-12. It is ironic that CDA, which is the virtual owner of Islamabad, required special campaigns to meet the task because the removal of encroachment should have been a continuing process followed by strict checks on a regular basis.
Those having doubts on the success of the anti-encroachment campaign say there is a gauge to assess the success of the drive: Can the CDA remove bulks of electronic goods lying on the verandas of Blue Area commercial centres? Can the CDA confiscate even a couple of deep freezers lying outside two famous drug stores in Khyber Plaza in the same locality? If not, then CDA has no right to uproot a tent or a katcha house in a slum. And it has no right to kick out a vendor or a cart pusher from Karachi Company either.