Every other day we see assistant or deputy commissioners along with their teams spearheading anti-encroachment drives around the country. The pretext of these anti-encroachment drives is to get rid of any illegal occupation of public land and enforce the law against whomever it may be. However, the reality is far from it. The law majority of the time comes into effect against the most economically vulnerable citizens of the state.
We see these anti-encroachment drives being carried out against the Katchiabadis, in which people from the lowest strata of the society reside, street vendors, trying to earn an honest living, small truck hotels, and alike businesses run by the poor. Whereas, a blind eye is turned toward elite restaurants, and cafes occupying footpaths and other public spaces.
We can take Islamabad’s example here, where elite restaurants and cafes set up their tables on footpaths and parks. From sector F-11 till F-6 all high-end restaurants in Islamabad have occupied public space outside their restaurants, they have blocked all pedestrian passages, which forces the people to walk on the roads instead of footpaths. Despite this, no action is taken against them but action is taken against the street vendors for doing the same thing on the pretext that they block the public way and block the traffic and also that it’s against the law to set up stalls on public property.
The civil bureaucracy while destroying these low-income hotels, houses, and kiosks of the poor during their anti-encroachment operations, shamelessly records it and uploads it on social media for some cheap praise from the public. They could be seen belittling and abusing these people while also confiscating their material possessions. They also try and justify their actions in the name of rule of law and that everyone is equal before the law but we know they are spineless against the mighty and powerful, for example:
A report by the Auditor General of Pakistan in 2022 claims that DHA and other housing societies have encroachment upon 787 kanals of state land Karachi-Hyderabad (M-9) motorway. Countless property tycoons have occupied state land in different parts of the country worth trillions of rupees yet we don’t see any anti-encroachment drives against them, nor do we see the same shenanigans by the civil bureaucracy against them that they use when destroying the livelihood of the poor.
According to figures cited in an the article by Iqbal Institute of Policy Studies titled ‘The cost of land encroachments and anti-encroachment drives in Pakistan’ 3,575 shops were demolished in an anti-encroachment drive in Karachi, which affected at least 17,500 workers. According to their own estimates, ‘If a single worker provides a means of sustenance to seven people on average, the number of affected people will be 122,500’. This proves that these anti-encroachment drives are counterproductive, they leave thousands of families without any income and also deprive people of affordable buying.
Recently, the Capital Development Authority has proceeded with its plan to develop 11th avenue in Islamabad. The authority using its anti-encroachment machinery has started destroying the katchi-abadis. They have destroyed a few houses in E-11 katchi-abadi so far and given them a two-day notice to evacuate the area which comes in the way of 11th avenue. The CDA hasn’t given them any alternate place to resettle nor any compensation to move elsewhere. Similarly, the CDA plans to demolish the H-11 katchi-abadi where mostly the Christian community resides, the katchi-abadi has about twenty thousand people residing, who will be displaced and have no place to go overnight. These are working-class people, mostly daily-wage laborers who have put their life’s savings into building a one or two-bedroom house. The CDA plans on snatching that away from them. The Capital Development Authority has a clear message that there’s no place for the working class laborers to live in Islamabad, they have to move out, period.
The elite is given out-of-the-way favours by the state to function as per their demands. While the poor are left to face the wrath of the civil bureaucracy “enforcing the law.”
The point is you can’t claim the law is for everyone and then only bring it into force against the poor. This classism is rooted in the bureaucracy’s deeply entrenched colonial mindset and training. You can’t favour one class and brutally punish the other.
Gimmicks like these are anti-poor, to simply put it. The people are massively struggling to make ends meet in this economy and to worsen it those trying to earn an honest living in the city, the CDA is hell-bent on snatching that away from them.