Initiatives in Grassroot’s Participation

I. Introduction

The dimensions of the urban crisis in Pakistan are well known, and as such need no elaboration. The most important aspect of this crisis is related to the provision of land and shelter for lower income groups. Over 40 percent of the population in our cities live in substandard housing, in squatter colonies, with no security of tenure. In spite of elaborate studies on this aspect of the problem, by national and international development agencies and experts, and in spite of the evolution and application of new and alternative strategies for development, the problem continues to grow. It almost seems as if the squatter colonies are the only solution for housing the lower income groups.

The Housing Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project has to be understood in this larger context, and as such this paper will briefly touch upon and discuss 3 issues:

  1. Government response to the housing needs of lower income groups, its nature and the obvious causes for its failure.
  2. The informal sector, its growth and institutions.
  3. The Housing Programme of the Orangi Pilot Project set against conclusions arrived at in 1 and 2 above.

II. Housing in Karachi

1. Government Response to the Housing Needs of Lower Income Groups

In Karachi, as in most Third World cities, the state has’ at different times reacted in a different manner to the problem of providing housing to the lower income groups. Mainly four strategies have been followed. These are discussed below.

1.1 Houses for the Poor

The initial response to the problem was the building of houses for the poor. For this purpose the government undertook the construction of large housing colonies complete with all services on the outskirts of the city and moved inner city squatters to these areas. To finance these ambitious schemes, the state raised loans from national and international agencies at comparatively low rates of interest. The residents of these houses were to repay these loans over a fifteen to twenty five year period. Costs of construction were reduced by innovative technology and the use of machines.

Although the government managed to shift a sizeable number of the poor to these colonies, this strategy has now been abandoned. The reasons for this are outlined below.

The Magnitude of the Problem

No governments in the Third World, or for that matter in the First World either, possess such enormous resources that they can provide houses to their poor. Through this strategy they can deal only with a very small part of the problem. In addition, the problem is not a static one, and with the passage of time will require larger and larger investments. Foreign loans can help one or two more colonies, but they cannot deal with the problem as a whole. Issues related to the repayment of the loan and the rates of interest involved, further complicate matters.

Recovery of Loans from the User

It is very difficult, if not impossible, to recover loans by taxing the user. The rate of default is very high in all countries where this strategy has been followed, and if the poor are almost destitute, or are politically powerful, nothing can be done to effect recoveries.

Socio-economic Problems

Removing the poor from the city centre also meant taking them far from their places of work. Although such housing schemes were usually accompanied with plans for creating jobs in the new colonies, these did not materialize for a host of reasons related to economic, logistic and administrative factors. As a result, the poor became poorer as they had to spend a large part of their income on commuting and the state had to create transport services which, in Karachi, have a history of running at a loss.

The Landhi-Korangi housing colonies of the early sixties in Karachi are examples of this sort of development.

1.2 The Site and Services Programme

Given the impossibility of constructing houses for the poor, government policies then aimed at providing land with all urban facilities to the lower income groups. This land was developed by official agencies and put up for direct sale. Thus the system of loans was dispensed with so as to overcome the problem of recovery. Almost all such schemes have failed to serve the target group and become middle income colonies. The causes for the failure of these schemes are fairly simple.

The Cost of Development is too High

The cost of development, complete with all services, is far too high and cannot be afforded by lower income groups in Karachi. The cost works out to a minimum of Rs.6000 for an 80 square yard plot, a price which few squatters would be willing or able to pay.

Affluent Middle Class

In Karachi there is an affluent middle class which can afford to, and is willing to, pay higher prices for serviced plots than what the local bodies fix for their schemes. Where administrative controls make it difficult for this class to move in, the projects lie empty for years until such controls are removed. In this process the government suffers large economic losses and the services are damaged due to non-use.


Financing of such projects also pose problems. For a new project to be launched the old one has to sell. In none of the countries which I know, have original targets of completion, and especially of sale and occupation, been met for such projects, thus trying up large state investments unproductively.


Because of the dearth of availability of regularized plots with the necessary services in the city, these schemes become subject to speculation and, as a result, the target group is not served. If these projects were of a much larger size, perhaps with lower standards of infrastructure to lower costs, there would be greater chances of success.

The Metroville projects in Karachi are examples of this type of development. For example, the Orangi Metroville was developed in 1973 as a site and services project for lower income groups. It was almost unoccupied until 1978. It has now become a middle income area and the users have demolished the utility walls put up on the plots by the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) as the part of the project, as these walls could not be integrated into the design of middle income housing. The Metroville provided for 4131 plots. Since its inception, over 30,000 plots have been developed and occupied illegally around it, in what is now known as Orangi Town.

1.3 The State Turns Developer

To overcome the financial problems related to the site and services programmes, the state has now turned into a “developer”. This means that projects are announced before they are physically commenced, and the public is asked to apply for a plot with an advance payment. Those who cannot be allotted the plots, have their money refunded. The rest pay for the plots in installments as the work on roads and services progresses. Thus the people finance the project themselves and the state overcomes its financial problems related to development.

This form of development, though in many cases ostensibly meant for lower income groups, does not cater to them for a variety of reasons.

People Want Land Immediately

Most lower income groups, and lower middle income groups as well, require land for their immediate needs and cannot wait for the development process to be completed. In some cases development may take up to 10 years, and the people cannot move in before, at least, water is made available, and in no case before official permission is granted. Lack of coordination between government agencies for provision of transport and other necessities of life for the users may make life very difficult for a considerable period of time.

Cultural Gap

To get the land, the people must apply for it, fulfill a series of formalities, and deal with state officials. Given the relationship between an individual from the working class and the state in our country, or in any Third World countr3, and given the time wasted in bureaucratic red- tapism, even if they can afford it and are willing to wait for years, the poor do not apply for these plots.


The development charges for such projects can be lower than those for the two preceding strategies, due to the manner of financing. However, this advantage is negated due to the other disadvantages mentioned.

Surjani Town and Shah Latif Town are examples of this sort of development in Karachi. Plots in these schemes were allotted in 1979/1981/1983, but so far none of them have been occupied.

One Comment

  1. Ghulam Nabi

    My name is Ghulam Nabi and i am student of SOCIAL SCIENCES.
    Well sir your general conclusion is quite abstract to the issue of katchi abadi. what practical approach do you think can actually resolve such complex and life threatening issue? a solution that can be used effectively in today’s scenario.

    Posted April 5, 2016 at 3:22 pm | PermalinkReply

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