Value Extraction from Land and Real Estate in Karachi

As a result of the neo-liberal agenda followed by the new government, decentralisation was carried out in 2001 and indirectly elected mayors replaced the old colonial bureaucracy and Karachi became an autonomous city district. International companies and international financial institutions flooded the city seeking to invest in it. A new vocabulary entered the development and planning process. Terms, such as, World Class city, investment friendly infrastructure, direct foreign investment, cities as engines of growth, golden hand-shake, public-private partnership, build, operate and transfer, began to be used more extensively in planning circles and in the media. This vocabulary and the culture that it promoted has also found its way into academia and is being promoted by many teachers, especially those who have studied in the West.

The Karachi Strategic Development Plan 2020 specifically states in its vision that Karachi is to be a World Class city. Under this vision, a beautification programme was commenced which consisted of building signal-free roads, flyovers and underpasses. These were built in spite of the fact that they were opposed by the city government planners and that they evicted 300,000 people from their homes. As part of Karachi’s beautification and investment plan, the gentrification of Karachi’s coastline was also undertaken by federal land owning agencies. This coastline is 27 kilometres long and has numerous creeks and mangrove forests. It is dotted with ancient fishing villages and more than half of it is visited by hundreds of thousands of Karachiites every week for recreation and entertainment. A large services sector serves the visitors.

In 2006, the Prime Minister signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Dubai based developers and ordered federal land-owning agencies to provide land to the developers by transferring state land to them and by cancelling existing leases of non-state entities. A MoU for handing over two islands off the coast was also enacted. The development projects proposed consisted of condominiums, five-star hotels, marinas, elite clubs and housing and commercial facilities. All these projects were located in the jurisdiction of the DHA and KPT.

The projects that were nearest to the city centre and on beaches most used by Karachiites, were located in the DHA, which began in the 1960’s as the Defence Housing Society. It consists of 3,530 hectares and is the most elite area of the city. It contains luxury apartments and homes, schools, colleges, clubs, posh shopping centres with designer boutiques, and five and six star hotels. Functioning of the Authority is vested in two bodies: the Governing Body, headed by the Secretary of the Ministry of Defence and the Executive Board headed by the Karachi Corp Commander of the Pakistan Army. The housing society also contains about 18 kilometres of coastline and creeks.

In 2002-3, the DHA built a promenade along a stretch of beach. It came to be known as Sea View. It was a major addition to recreation for the city of Karachi. As a result, people shifted from other beach fronts to it. Hawkers, jugglers, animal performers, camels and horses for riding, invaded it. The DHA was horrified for it wanted its beach to be used by “decent people”. So, it banned all hawkers, performers and other persons serving the poorer sections of the population from the beach front. It set up expensive food outlets along this stretch of beach. As a result, poor people stopped coming here. This stretch came to be known as the rich man’s beach and a beach adjacent to it in the jurisdiction of the city government, where all activity was permitted, as the poor man’s beach.

The Urban Resource Centre (URC) took up this issue by articles and letters in the press and the media also made it an important issue. Finally, the DHA residents’ society intervened and made the DHA management relax the conditions they had imposed. Meanwhile, the city government developed the poor man’s beach as a park and turned away all the hawkers and performers from there as well. However, they have come back on the entrances to the park and in the lanes next to it by informally paying the city government staff and officials.

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