Islamabad – The Capital Development Authority (CDA) has decided to make a forcible eviction operation the “last resort” to remove the 7,995 Katchi Abadi residents from sector I-11.
“A big forced operation is not foreseen which will only be measure of last resort in consultation with Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT)/Rangers etc.,” states a January 8 letter written by CDA’s director enforcement to Ghulam Murtaza, secretary committee in the senate secretariat. “Peaceful and voluntary shifting is only being resorted to.”
The CDA was given a January 15 deadline by the subcommittee on Cabinet Secretariat to clear the sector of its squatter settlement. The CDA had served notices to the settlers to voluntarily leave the area by January 5 or face an eviction operation.
The date has come and passed, but the CDA has not launched its operation. Residents say the past few days have been quiet and they have also received some support from Senator Idrees Khan of Mohmand Agency, who has asked them to form a 12-member committee and meet with him.
Most of the residents of the I-11 settlement are from Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, including 2,878 from Mohmand Agency, according to a survey of the area conducted by the CDA and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
However, the CDA’s member estate Shaista Sohail, who is leading the charge on the I-11 Katchi Abadi removal, is unequivocal about the illegality of the settlement.
She is adamant the 1,200 plots allotted by the CDA in 1990 must be cleared of the “illegal residents” and handed over to the plot owners. Sohail believes most of the settlement’s residents can afford rented accommodations in the city.
“We are trying to get the issue resolved amicably by counseling the illegal residents to shift to rented accommodations,” Sohail said.
Yusuf Shah, a resident of Miskeenabad – the name the residents have given to the settlement – said it was literally impossible for residents to move to a rented accommodation.
“Most of the households have 15 to 30 members, some even more,” Shah, who works at the I-11 vegetable market, said. “No landlord in the city will rent us a place.”
He said staying separate accommodations is out of question because of their financial conditions.
Raheem Daad, another resident of Miskeenabad, said they are open to leaving the area if the CDA moves them to another location that is close to the vegetable market. But they will not vacate the settlement otherwise, Daad said.
A senior official of the CDA’s estate wing, who requested anonymity, told The Express Tribune said the CDA is trying to shift some of the poor residents of the squatter settlement to an alternative location.
“The estate wing is consulting with the planning wing to shift the poorest 20 per cent of the residents,” the official said.
There is no indication about how the CDA will select the poorest of the lot. One of the proposed locations for resettling the residents is near Rawat. The CDA has not arrived at an exact location yet.
A move to Rawat would mean the livelihoods of the Katchi Abadi dwellers, almost all of whom work at the I-11 vegetable market, will be destroyed.
On the other hand, CDA officials are also wary that if they re-settle the I-11 Katchi Abadi residents, they would be setting a precedent for other slum dwellers.
For the I-11/1 residents, the precedent was already established with the allotment of land to Christian settlements in Islamabad and also the move of residents from Haq Bahu – a slum that existed in the I-11 area before the IJ Principal road was built – to Ali Pur Farash.
CDA officials looking after Katchi Abadis in the capital say only “regular” Katchi Abadis that existed before 1985 were either upgraded or their residents allotted land elsewhere.
The officials do not consider the I-11 squatter settlement a regular Katchi Abadi, although some of its residents say they have been living there for 40 years.
Some of the residents, like Sanobar Khan, have acquired a stay order till January 12 against eviction from the district court.
The residents are hopeful some kind of divine intervention would help them to stay longer. Tahirul Qadri’s long march might provide a diversion from the eviction operation, they think.