Initiatives in Grassroot’s Participation

1.4 Regularization of Katchi Abadis

Having realized that they cannot give the poor regularized land with urban services at an affordable price, the state has accepted the squatter colonies as a reality and initiated a process of regularizing and upgrading them.

Through this process the squatters are given a title to the land that they occupy. They make payment for this lease and in some cases for other services as development charges. This money finances the upgrading process. From details available it seems that the upgrading plan in most cases will dislocate 20 to 25 percent of the population. The state will provide alternative accommodation to the displaced families at the same cost as the regularization action.

The results of this regularization process have so far been discouraging. The reasons for this are discussed below.

Regularization Announcement is Security Enough

Squatters feel that once an area has been marked for regularization, it is security enough. Then they are no longer in a hurry to get a lease or pay development charges.

Lease and Development Charges are too High

Lease and development charges are higher than those which people are capable of paying at one go. Recovering money in installments is a complex and expensive process and has a very limited history of success.

Complicated Procedure of Acquiring Lease

The process of acquiring a lease is a complex one. The squatter has to visit various government agencies frequently to buy a form, fill a form, submit a form, make payments more than once in the process; appear before a Registrar, maybe more than once; be subjected to hostility and be viewed with suspicion by the state functionaries and cater to corruption. In this process he may waste 10 to 14 days over a 3 to 4 month period. For a daily wage earner this is a very difficult exercise if not an impossible one.

Displaced Families

Plots for housing the families displaced by the upgrading process are not available. For instance, for the families to be displaced by the upgrading proposal the number of plots required is equal to the total number of plots developed at Surjani Town, one of the major development schemes of the KDA!

Baldia Township in Karachi is an example of a squatter colony which the state has decided to upgrade. The decision to upgrade Baldia was taken in 1977 and actual work began in 1981. Since then not even 10 percent of the plots have been regularized. Negotiations with international agencies are taking place to finance development in regularized abadis. Given Baldia’s response, this loan will be impossible to repay.

1.5 Conclusions Regarding Government’s Response

It is obvious from the above paragraphs that government’s response to the problem of low income housing fails because it is incompatible with the sociol9gy and economics of the urban poor. The lack of resources on the part of the state also makes it impossible to bring about development on a large enough scale to kill speculation. Sometimes, when land is made available, the poor find it difficult to construct a house as no technical advice or credit facilities are available for this purpose.
Given the political and social conditions in our country no solution can be offered to this problem. However, it has to be understood that an organized people, even if poor, are a resource in themselves. It is because of this understanding that the OPP has been able to carry out a massive self help sanitation programme, financed entirely by the people, at a cost of less than one fourth of what the local bodies spend on similar development.

2. The Informal Sector in Housing

Given the failure of official policies, the people have had to find ways and means of overcoming their own housing problems, very often in defiance of government policies. The extent to which this informal sector has evolved over the years can be judged by making a comparison between the early and more recent katchi abadis.

2.1 Differences between Earlier and More Recent Katchi Abadis

The earlier katchi abadis were located in open areas in the city itself or near its centre. The more recent abadis are located in the suburbs, often near areas through which service lines to the city pass or a natural drainage basin exists.

Plan of the Abadi

The old abadis have no regular plan. The streets are narrow, in come cases less than 4 feet wide. Open spaces for schools, playgrounds and mosques are non-existent. The plot sizes are irregular and sometimes as small as 12 square yards.
The new abadis are planned on a grid iron. The streets are wide and the sizes of the plots are identical. Open spaces for playgrounds, schools etc, are often set aside. Planned markets exist. Official planning regulations would have little quarrel with these town plans.

Quality of Housing

Houses in the early abadis were originally of mat and reed construction. They improved over a very long period of time. Houses in the more recent abadis have a uniform technology and the quality of construction is much better. Concrete blocks for walls, and asbestos cement or GI sheets for roofs, are the most common building materials in Karachi.

Water Supply and Transport

In the older abadis water supply through tankers and/or transport to the settlement was arranged as a result of a considerable amount of lobbying with the government by the people. In some recent abadis it takes place without any visible signs of lobbying.


In the early abadis people in different neighbourhoods originally migrated from the same part of the country to the city. In the more recent abadis the neighbourhoods are mixed not only ethnically, but also people from different social or economic classes might live in the same lane.

2.2 Reasons for the Differences

It is obvious from the comparison between the old and new abadis that there is some hand behind the organization of the more recent settlements. This hand is that of the private entrepreneur or ‘dalal’, as he is called in our country. This man, or group of men, have found weak points in the official ‘system’, and by co-opting it, or bypassing it, they have managed to give the people plots of land along with other facilities, at a price which they can afford.

The early settlements were invasions into the city by groups of people who occupied whatever vacant land they could find. A decade or so of persecution, the bulldozing of settlements in the sixties, and the strengthening of the state apparatus, made the acquisition of land for housing almost impossible for lower income groups. It was this stage that the ‘dalal’ stepped in as a viable response to a genuine demand.

The ‘dalal’ occupies land illegally with the patronage of state officials, who acquire some financial stake in the operation. Police protection is sought for the new abadis, again at a price. The planning is done as far as possible as per the government planning regulations, so that regularization at some later stage may pose no problems to the future residents. Prize plots for shops etc are held back for speculation. In some cases these may belong to the government officials who have helped in setting up the project. The price of the plots is made cheap enough for the poor to buy in one installment. To make this possible the ‘dalal’ may even forego his profit and depend only on speculation of prize plots for making money.

The services of the ‘dalal’ do not stop here. He arranges for the initial supply of water to the abadi, and makes arrangements for its continuation, but at the expense of the user. He also manages to arrange the commencement of transport, either through political influence or by using the government contacts who have been co-opted by him.

In addition, he arranges for the setting up of a building manufacturer’s yard, or a ‘thalla’ as it is called2 in the new abadi. This manufacturer gives technical advice, makes artisanal skills available to house builders, gives materials of construction on credit, and sometimes also cash credit for house building.

The whole process gives considerable political power to the ‘dalal’ and he is wooed by political groups and parties. If often happens that in democratic countries, ‘dalal’ developed squatter colonies increase in size just before the elections.

Thus the ‘dalal’ illegally provides the people with the immediate possession of land, with water, protection from eviction, transport facilities and credit and technical assistance for house building, all at a price that the poor can afford. Government policies cannot do this legally, with all the power behind them. The ‘dalal’s’ development strategy is successful because it is compatible with the sociology and economics of low income groups. The extent of its success can be judged from the fact that this kind of development is growing rapidly, in spite of increasing restrictions from officialdom.

2.3 Conclusion Regarding the Informal Sector

Government development agencies are in no position to compete with the ‘dalals’. As such, for the foreseeable future, most low income housing will be built in squatter colonies with technical advice and financial assistance from ‘thallawalas’.

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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