Islamabad – On the face of it, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) seems hell-bent on clearing sector I-11 of illegal settlements, but there remains a faint glimmer of hope that some of the residents might be spared.
The CDA had given the residents of the I-11 katchi abadi up until January 5 to vacate the land — 10 days prior to the expiry of a deadline set by a parliamentary panel to clear the sector. If the residents do not comply, they are supposed to be forcibly evicted by the civic agency’s enforcement directorate.
However, sources in the enforcement directorate told The Express Tribune there is a chance some residents might be given more time.
“Some impoverished settlers who cannot afford to move anywhere else might be given until June to leave the settlement,” said an enforcement official who requested anonymity.
Another senior CDA official said the agency is trying to figure out a solution that would not require an eviction operation.
“We are trying to facilitate the residents so they willingly move into rented accommodation,” the official said.
Unrealistic as it may seem, one of the proposed suggestions for facilitating the residents is to provide them with access to buses to ease the commute to the vegetable market area, where most of them work.
CDA officials believe some of the residents can afford to live in rented housing. Residents of the squatter settlement, however, think it is beyond their means.
“If we could afford to live elsewhere, why would we live in such miserable conditions?” said Fazal Shah, one of the katchi abadi residents. “We are living here out of desperation.”
Shah, originally from Mardan, said the residents have been bullied by the CDA’s enforcement directorate over the past few days.
On the other hand, CDA Estate Management Member Shaista Sohail said the civic agency is trying to complete the operation peacefully.
“We are intensifying our efforts to take possession of the land in an amicable manner,” she said.
The CDA had allotted 1,200 plots in the sector in 1990, but for decades, the land has been occupied by people from different parts of the country who have settled here in small, makeshift huts. Over the years, they have built modest structures not even capable of completely shielding them from the elements, for which they claim to have paid thousands of rupees to the CDA.
The I-11 slum was once a temporary settlement for Afghan refugees, but today it houses people from conflict-ridden parts of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and the Federal Administered Tribal Areas. According to a survey of the area conducted by the CDA, registered Afghan refugees make up only 13% of the 7,995 settlers in I-11.
Oddly enough, most of the official correspondence on the squatter settlement focuses on Afghan refugees.
On new year’s day, a review meeting on clearing the settlement, held at the SSP’s office saw the representative of Afghanistan’s Ministry of Refugees and Repatriation presenting three requests for the stakeholders — allowing Afghan refugees to continue living in I-11 due to the cold weather, a resettlement plan with adequate time given for relocation, or United Nations of Human Rights Commission facilitation for the refugees, in case a resettlement plan is not possible. But, according to sources, during the same meeting, CDA officials said “no new areas could be allocated for temporary stay” for Afghan refugees in Islamabad. In a letter to the Ministry of States and Frontier Regions on December 31, 2012, the CDA’s “categorical stance” was to vacate all green belts of Afghan refugees by June 30, 2013. It also states that other refugees move into rented accommodations, and those who cannot afford rent should be shifted to Kot Chandna refugee camp.
In the latest meeting between official stakeholders on Friday, which included CDA, Islamabad Capital Territory and United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representatives, it was decided that possession of the land should be taken without resorting to confrontation. CDA sources said a breakthrough that might involve residents wilfully relocating, could be achieved by next week.
Meanwhile, Sohail said Islamabad Electric Supply Company has cut illegal electricity connections in the I-11 settlement.
Shah, on the other hand, said that if evicted, he and his family have nowhere to go.
“We have no option but to die,” he said. “If not of cold and hunger, then on the roads where they throw us.”