— Irfan Ali, Director General, Lahore Development Authority in terviewed by By Saadia Salahuddin & Aoun Sahi of the NEWS
The new DG LDA has taken a series of actions in the last one month. One was ordering land audit of 116 housing schemes in the district. Another was placing a number of ads in daily newspapers to apprise the public of the frauds and irregularities where they exist, in the different housing schemes. This was to warn people to check with LDA whether the plot exists or not, before purchasing land. This led The News on Sunday to interview him and find out what was happening in the realm of real estate.
These housing societies or schemes are still doing business despite having earned a reputation (of committing fraud). TNS asked the DG what the LDA was doing about it.
At this DG LDA Irfan Ali said, “LDA’s actions are geared towards ensuring the welfare of prospective buyers. We have all the maps of schemes that we have approved. The people can check with us. Our role is to regulate the private sector which has a major role in land development, so we do not want to discourage them. LDA points out irregularities and the private housing schemes should address the problems themselves.”
It has been observed that when an individual constructs a shop or a plaza which is not approved by LDA, the authority demolishes the building but it does not seal the offices of those who fleece the common people about a piece of land that does not exist. Replying to the query about the discriminatory rules for individual constructors and big housing projects, he said, “LDA cannot take drastic action. We have to work gradually because we don’t want to create panic. There are people who have constructed houses under different schemes. Any sweeping action will uproot them as well. We don’t want to put the people through a suffering that wasn’t intended.
“All the ills that are there can be removed,” he declared. “We are giving time to the various land schemes and societies to fix their flaws, and I believe that is possible. There may be areas where there is no scope for improvement but I want them all to resolve their issues by themselves. I have nothing personal against any one of them.
“LDA is doing land audit which should be seen as a routine thing. It means that we go to a site to see if a scheme is following LDA’s approved plan for it which also includes provision of basic amenities. Even today, LDA has done audit of 6-7 schemes. There are many who are following the rules. This will help the people know the facts about the existing schemes. It should have started ten years back. I wish this audit would have been done from day one. But better late then never!”
According to Irfan Ali, “Land audit is an effort on LDA’s part to ensure the provision of roads, mosques, schools, parks and graveyard as per law. Twenty per cent of land in a scheme is supposed to be marked for such basic amenities. Then, laying of sewerage according to the population’s needs and proper drainage are other important things we look into. I ask my staff of the Metropolitan wing to go and see whether they are abiding by the law or not.
“What needs to be checked is the unbridled use of land. The city is expanding at an amazing rate left, right and centre. A good lot of agricultural land has been engulfed by the land schemers. It seems there is a great disregard for using land properly. We need to use land wisely. How will we meet our food needs if we destroy our agricultural land. It is our lifeline. Future master planning will focus on protecting existing agricultural land. All construction in the future has got to be vertical in the city.”
When asked about the housing needs of the population, Irfan said, “For a very long time, nobody has addressed the needs of the middle and lower middle classes in the sector. All the investment that has been made in the housing sector is meant for the rich and upper middle class only. It’s time we did something for the blue-collared segment of our society. For a very long time, we have focused on cities. It’s time we invested in development in rural areas to stop their influx to the cities.
“Lahore’s population is about 90 lakh at present, so we need to contain the rural population in villages. For that we need to design development projects to create earning opportunities in their hometowns. The issue is collective welfare.”
In reply to a question about LDA’s initiatives in slums, he said, “Let me tell you, Katchi Abadis and slums are two different things. Slums are places where you have brick houses but no sewerage, sanitation and clean drinking water. Rise in slums is related to the rise in urbanisation, and we need to do something here.
“Land is being used for speculation when it should never be used like that. All one should own is land where one can live, nothing more nor less than that. Land is limited. It’s not an unlimited resource. We have to proceed with respect in using it.”