The promise of providing adequate housing for the masses has always been a famous slogan for winning elections in Pakistan; however, the delivery has been non-existent. Z.A. Bhutto presented it to the masses under the catchphrase Roti, Kapra aur Makaan (Feed, Clothe and House) in the 1970s, Nawaz Sharif promoted it with the mantra of Apna Ghar (Own home) in his last tenure, and more recently, Imran Khan promised to build 5 million houses in 5 years.
Bhutto inspired Indra Gandhi to use the same slogan in her election campaign in the 70s. He also provided a title for a 1974 blockbuster of Amitabh Bachchan; however, he failed to make even a tangible start to fulfilling his promise. Ironically, In the 2008 elections, Asif Ali Zardari used the catchphrase again on top of having voter sympathies due to the the assassination of Benazir Bhutto and won a landslide victory with negligible personal political capital.
Nawaz Sharif knew the importance of this slogan in the eyes of the electrolyte, so he propagated a theme of everyone becoming a homeowner. The Express Tribune reported in 2016 that after forming the government in 2013, it was the least important issue for Nawaz Sharif’s cabinet, one of the reasons it never took off.
And then again, Imran Khan won elections in 2018 by announcing the plan to build 5 million homes in 5 years as one of his flagship policies, taking inspiration from previous governments. He has taken many concrete steps in the last three years to get this campaign promise to a flying start. Some steps include removing hurdles in acquiring land for the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation, reclaiming government land illegally occupied by politicians to construct affordable housing, introducing private-public partnership in the sector to improve efficiency, funding the Akuwat Foundation to provide interest-free loans, geo-mapping land records, reducing the interest on house mortgages, forcing commercial banks to utilise a 5% portfolio for small house financing, allowing black money to flow into construction among other things.
With all these steps in place, it still feels as if the government is barking up the wrong tree, as not many structural reforms have taken place to regain buyer confidence, and most policies are aimed at investors. Even today, private housing societies are selling plots of land which they have not even bought yet.
The other major issue is the lack of compliance of government suggested bylaws. There are many examples of legal loophole exploitation across the whole country. Nevertheless, a focus on our capital city could give us an idea of what to expect in other regions. For example, Hanif Abbasi (ex PLM-N MNA), with the help of his cronies (the Societies Management Committee), sold land worth Rs28 billion in Azad Jammu Kashmir Society (AJKS), which they never bought. Aqeel Anjum (ex-PML-N MNA) reduced the standard size of roads in E-11 when developing it, and because of this corrupt practice, people were killed recently in flash flooding.
As a British-Pakistani, I have become a victim, along with many others. We spent our lifelong savings on buying a plot of land in the F-16 sector of AJKS, and after 17 years, we are still waiting for an inch of developed land to build our dream home. Many members have left this world, and a significant number of them are bedridden due to stress caused by the lack of development of F-16.
I want to suggest a law that criminalises the sale of land which is not in a society’s possession and a government takeover of the F-16 sector to develop it under the CDA as soon as possible. I do not doubt that Imran Khan has noble intentions and is an honest leader, but he will have to make these fundamental changes to laws around the construction industry so he protects the consumer (the people) and not just the investor.
The writer is a British-Pakistani affected by corruption in F 16 Sector, Islamabad