The Katchi Abadi Syndrome and the Shelter Sector in Pakistan

In 1984, 31.2 percent of Pakistan’s population lived in urban centres. By 2000 this figure is expected to increase to 40 percent due to an annual population growth rate of 4.4 percent in the urban sector. To accommodate this phenomenal growth 270,000 new housing units are required every year. However, only 60 percent of this requirement is fulfilled, most of it through the expansion of katchi abadis where there is little or no hope of regularization of tenure or development of services.

At present, 26 percent of Pakistan’s urban population lives in katchi abadis. For Karachi this figure works out to 38 percent. The katchi abadis grow at an annual rate of 7.3 percent as opposed to 1.5 percent for the planned areas. This means that if things remain as they are then by the year 2000, more than 50 percent of Pakistan’s urban population will be living in katchi abadis. The regularization and development of existing, and the prevention of new katchi abadis is therefore the most important aspect of housing in Pakistan.

Reasons for the growth of katchi abadis:

The main reason for the development of katchi abadis is that the cost of land developed by the state or other formal sector agencies is far too high and hence cannot be afforded by the urban poor. The procedures adopted for acquiring this land are also long and cumbersome. Even if some of the poor can raise the finances required and complete the procedures, it may take as long as 10 years before the development process is complete and possession is handed over to them. The poor on the other hand need land immediately. Again, once possession is handed over, technical assistance and credit for house construction is simply not available.

This government failure to cater to the needs of the lower income groups has led to the creation of an informal sector which acquires land through illegal or extra legal means. This land is sold to the poor without cumbersome procedures, at a price they can afford, and possession is given immediately. The informal sector provides credit and technical assistance for house building and the residents lobby with state agencies for services, and acquire them over decades, often in defiance of state regulations. Thus, katchi abadis continue to grow.

Government land meant for the poor continues to be developed as well, often with subsidies, and is acquired by professional speculators or the middle classes for speculative purposes. All over Pakistan such land lies unused for years. For example, of the 110,470 site and services plots developed by the KDA between 1970 and 1982, only 3,500 have so far been occupied.

The Katchi Abadi Improvement and Regularization Programme:

The government of Pakistan is committed to regularize and develop those katchi abadis on state land which were in existence on or before 23 March, 1985. New katchi abadis, or growth on existing ones, after this date, however, are to be treated as encroachments and there is no plan for their regularization. The regularization process inaugurated in the mid-seventies has not yielded successful results: less than 5 percent of the sites have been upgraded and only 12 percent of the population has acquired proprietary rights. In Karachi, for instance, out of 223,000 housing units, only 20,000 have actually acquired lease rights over the last 15 year.

There are a number of reasons for the failure of the katchi abadis improvement and regularization programme. The main reason being that the government cannot afford to develop and regularize the katchi abadis at its own cost and has to depend on recovering it investment from the beneficiaries through lease and development charges. This recovery has not materialized and a 20 percent default in payment completely upsets the viability of .the programme. In the case of Karachi this is exactly what has happened during the sixth five year plan period.

Again, there are a host of reasons for the beneficiaries not coming forward to pay the regularization and development charges. Many residents of the katchi abadi feel that the regularization announcement has given them a de-facto security of tenure and so a de-jure security is not really required. Others have little faith in government agencies and feel that payment of the regularization and development charge will not necessarily bring development to their areas. There are complaints that the charge is far too high for the poor to afford and the procedures for acquiring a lease involve bureaucratic red-tapism and corruption of the worst kind.

Apart from the difficulties involved in recovering finances from the residents, there is a major technical flaw in the programme itself. In the development of the katchi abadis certain standards have been stipulated. The application of these standards results in dislocating a very large number of residents. Providing alternative accommodation to such residents is a major social, financial and logistic problem. The scale of this problem can be judged by the fact that more than 50 percent of the 2,103 million rupees required for the Karachi katchi abadis improvement and regularization during the sixth five year plan period was to be spent on this exercise!

The programme concept had envisaged major community participation in planning, development and future maintenance of the abadis. This participation, it was felt, would overcome most of the problems associated with the programme. However, such participation has not only materialized but the majority of katchi abadi residents are not even fully aware of the aims, objectives and mechanics of the programme itself.

Two successful projects:

In spite of the fact, that katchi abadis continue to grow and that the Improvement and Regularization Programme has so far been a dismal failure, there are some signs of hope for the housing sector in Pakistan. These are provided by two pilot projects: the Incremental Housing Scheme, popularly known as “Khuda ki Basti” in Hyderabad, and the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP) in Karachi.

In the Khuda ki Basti scheme, the Hyderabad Development Authority (HDA), following the example, of the informal sector has been able to provide unsubsidized land to the urban poor at a price they can afford, with immediate possession and without involving the residents in any bureaucratic red-tapism. The HDA has also managed to keep the speculators out by adopting appropriate on site screening processes and by legalizing tenure only after the full payment of Rs 9,600 hat been recovered over a period of 8 years. This payment is realised through an initial payment of Rs 1,000 and the rest through small monthly instalments. The informal sector has been inducted into the scheme to provide technical help for house building and an incremental and thus affordable, system for the provision of services has been developed. Initially, only water is provided by the HDA. In addition, the HDA is involving government agencies such as the HBFC, Small Industries Corporation and the Women’s Division in the social and economic upgrading of Khuda ki Basti, a role that they are not playing in an integrated manner in any other town income settlement.

Unlike the Khuda ki Basti, the OPP operates in existing katchi abadis in Orangi Township. These abadis have a population of about one million. In the seven years of its existence the OPP has been able to motivate the residents to finance and build their own sewerage systems. In this process 43,000 houses have mobilized over 30 million rupees. The OPP has provided motivation, technical advice and tools, but has not subsidized construction in any ways The research and extension method which has made the OPP’s low cost sanitation model so successful, is being applied to a housing programme, a women’s welfare programme, an economic programme and an education programme. In addition, due to the awareness generated by the OPP programmes, the residents have also involved their area councillors and the funds allotted to them, in the development process. The average expenditure of the OPP on administration, research, extension and capital costs works out to 3 million rupees a year and shows that katchi abadi development is possible without large funding and the untraceable problems associated with “cost recovery”.

Lessons learnt from the two projects:

The lessons learnt from the Khuda ki Basti and the OPP model are of great significance to the housing sector in Pakistan. The HDA’s scheme has established that although the poor cannot afford to pay for serviced land as developed by state agencies, they are wilting to move in and build on unserviced land provided the cost is low, water is available, and there is the possibility of acquiring other services incrementally over the years. It has also been established that speculation can effectively be controlled if tenure security is linked to the construction of a house on unserviced land within a month of allotment. Again, if allotment procedures are simplified to on-site negotiations, and if services are to follow habitation, incrementally, then direct contact is established between the owners as a group and the government agencies. This makes community awareness and involvement possible. Properly managed this can lead to community operated and maintained services and community management of credit. The HDA is in the process of doing exactly this through it’s recently established “block organizations” and the HBFC funded credit scheme.

The OPP on the other hand has established that communities can be motivated into organizing themselves, raising finances and developing and maintaining services provided the unit of organization is small and cohesive. Thus organized, communities become susceptible to advice and can affect government policies and their manner of implementation at the local level successful motivation, it has been established, is the result of social, economic and technical research, and extension. This process, in addition to mobilizing the community can also reduce development costs by over 60 percent of the development charges of the local authorities; improve the housing stock; establish credit systems where recovery of credit becomes possible; increase incomes; effect health and education standards positively; facilitate self government and decision-making at the local level, and make government aid and assistance useful and effective. Given the achievements and the approach of the two projects, it is not surprising that they are in constant touch with each other.

Replication of the projects:

If the growth of katchi abadis is to be stopped then easy access to land, credit and technical assistance has to be provided to the urban poor. The HDA’s Khuda ki Basti scheme shows how this can be achieved. Similarly, if existing katchi abadis, or other low income areas, are to be physically, socially and economically developed then the methodology of the OPP must become a part of official planning. For the development of the shelter sector in, Pakistan the replication of these two projects in a big way is necessary. The setting up of a Research and Training Institute for the Development of Katchi Abadis at the OPP, with assistance from the government of Sind, is therefore a step in the right direction. It is hoped that a similar institute will be set up in Hyderabad to promote the concept and methodology of the HDA’s Khuda ki Basti scheme.


  1. I just want to say that the article is just amazing. Hit i like it. And much impressed by it.

    Posted June 15, 2020 at 4:26 pm | PermalinkReply
  2. Thanks for sharing your information. This is very informative for me.

    Posted October 12, 2020 at 4:04 pm | PermalinkReply

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