The Low Cost Sanitation Programme of the OPP

The Low Cost Sanitation Programme was the first programme of the Orangi Pilot Project (OPP). As a result of its research and extension effort 1683 lanes out of 3052 lanes have acquired an underground drainage system. In addition 110 secondary drains have been constructed. This work has been financed and constructed by the people of the lanes who have so far spent about Rs 28,000,000,or US$ l,6O5,000,for this purpose. If this work had been carried out by the local bodies, the cost would have been in the neighbourhood of US$ 6,000,000. The OPP has been responsible for research and extension and for giving technical advice and assistance. Since its inception in 1980, the OPP has spent a total of about Rs. 1,200,000 or US$ 70,588 on research and extension. This figure includes staff salaries, consultant’s fees and capital expenditure, and is 4.44% of what the Orangi residents have spent on the Low Cost Sanitation Programme.

Akhtar Hameed Khan, Aga Hasan Abidi and the Formation of the OPP

The OPP was formed as a result of an understanding between Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan and Aga Hasan Abidi.

Dr. Akhtar Hameed Khan is now 73 years old. He is a world renowned social scientist. He resigned a very promising career as a member of the British Indian Civil Service, to become a labourer, and eventually a school and college teacher. He was the Principal of the Victoria College in Comilla, now in Bangladesh, when recurrent floods created famine conditions and destroyed the economy of the rural areas in that province. The Government of Pakistan, in spite of large investments for flood control, failed to come up with any solution to the problem. Dr. Khan then pointed out that the real reason for the floods was the breakup of the old feudal system, whose institutions had kept the drainage system functioning. He further pointed out the reasons why the state could not replace the function of the feudals. He argued that the only solution lay in bringing the peasants together, thereby creating new institutions to replace the old. This led to his involvement in rural development, success in controlling the floods, organizing the peasants, and eventually, the formation of the Comilla Academy. Dr. Khan considers himself to be a teacher, and has always emphasised that it is only by raising the awareness of the common people, and by organizing them, that any meaningful change can take place. Dr. Khan has taught at various senior institutions in Pakistan, and has been a Professor at Michegan State University, USA; Oxford University; Harvard University; and at the Lund University in Sweden. Dr. Khan’s theory is born out of practice, and not the other way round.

While Dr. Khan was the Director of the Comilla Academy, the Harvard group, in 1958, gave the Academy a grant of US$ 1,000,000. Various Pakistani banks tried to get this grant deposited with them. Aga Hasan Abidi was then an executive of the United Bank. He visited Comilla, met the Director, saw the project with great interest,(the only banker who did), and offered the best terms for getting the grant deposited with him.

Unlike Dr. Khan, Aga Hasan Abidi began his career as a junior officer in a Pakistani bank. Rising quickly he became the chief executive of the United Bank, and under him this organization became by far the foremost bank in Pakistan. In 1971 he established the Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI), which has since then become a major international organization. In 1979 he created the BCCI foundation, and it was then that he remembered Dr. Khan, and requested him to undertake philanthropic social work in the squatter colony of Orangi, in Karachi. Dr. Khan informed Aga Hasan Abidi that he was against all charity, but he was willing to develop a research project aimed at development through community organization. Aga Hasan Abidi agreed to fund this effort, and in April 1980 the OPP was created. No targets were set and Dr. Khan was to be his own master in every way, a fact that makes the OPP very different from similar projects in Pakistan. Describing his relationship with Aga Hasan Abidi, Dr. Khan says that it is a relationship between God and man. Aga Hasan Abidi has put him in Orangi, but after that, like God, he has left him alone.

The Choice Of Orangi

Orangi was chosen as the area of Dr. Khan’s operation because it was then in the limelight, as many thousand of repatriates from former East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were being settled there. Many organizations were spending money on their maintenance, including the BCCI. For Dr. Khan, the reasons for choosing Orangi are not important. Orangi was chosen, he says, because it was there!

Orangi Township Before The OPP

Orangi Township is situated on the tableland and hills of Orangi, west of Karachi city. It has a population of about 800,000,and covers an area of about 5000 acres, out of which 1300 acres were developed by the Karachi Development Authority (KDA). The rest of the area is a ‘katchi abadi’, which is the Pakistani term for a squatter colony.

Like everywhere else in the world, ‘katchi abadis’ develop because of the inappropriate and inadequate response of government development agencies to the requirements of the urban poor. The land grabber and the illegal subdivider, are thus responsible for the ‘katchi abadis’ which form Orangi township. These operators were of two kinds. First, those who understood the needs of the low income groups and were able to evolve a development and settlement policy which was compatible with the sociology and economics of the poor. They solicited and obtained the support of government officials and the police, (at a price of course) for overcoming the difficulties involved in this effort, Most initial development in Orangi was carried out by these persons. The second sort are those who have acted as touts or agents to some corrupt yet enterprising government officials. These are responsible for the more recent settlements in Orangi. This difference between the promoters of the old and the more recent settlements is important, as it points to the growing involvement, even if unofficial, of state agencies in the creation of ‘katchi abadis’.

The process of acquiring land, settling people, dealing with state officials and the police, made these subdividers politically very powerful, and they emerged as the leaders of the people of Orangi. As such they were, and are, wooed both by the administration and the political parties. Almost all leaders have made use of their leadership to acquire property and money, and have bargained for favours from those in power. They can however be divided into two categories. The first category were those whose prime purpose was to acquire material benefits from the position in which they found themselves. Most of these have left Orangi, after having cheated and exploited the people, and in the process have lost their credibility. The second category had political ambitions, and tried to serve their people while at the same time trying to maintain the status quo as far as possible. In this category again, there are those who have larger political aspirations and are willing to work for a meaningful change. These are normally better educated than the rest, and come from a background of teachers, lawyers and other professions.

Most subdividers, after having settled the area which they grabbed, set up social welfare organizations for the neighbourhood, with themselves or their nominees as their office bearers. Many of these organizations are properly registered legal persons, and they have lobbied with the concerned government departments for getting electricity, transport and water tankers for water supply to their neighbourhood. For this purpose they have often raised funds, which have frequently been misappropriated by the leaders. However, fake accounts for these sums have always been prepared and submitted to the people, who have accepted them as they had no alternative leadership which had access to the corridors of power.

These welfare organizations drew into their fold public spirited people, who in almost all cases emerged as the supporters and muscle men of the leadership.

Wherever land was being subdivided in Orangi, a building contractor moved in and established a manufacturing yard for blocks, lintels, pipes and slabs. He also stocked asbestos sheets and other industrially manufactured items. The manufacturer’s yard is known as a ‘thalla’ in Pakistan and the owner of the yard as the ‘thallawala’.

The ‘thallawala’ is responsible for the building of the Orangi houses. He not only supplies materials and labour on credit to the new plot owners for house building purposes, but also cash credit at times. His profit margins are low, and at no time has he been known to use physical force to recover his dues. For this purpose he relies on social pressure, which is by far more effective. His indispensability to the settlement process has given him considerable importance and respect in the community, and his advice and intervention is sought in most public and personal matters.

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