Karachi’s Nasla Tower has been a topic of debate in Pakistan ever since Supreme Court ordered its demolition. It is a 15-story residential building situated at an intersection on Shahrah-e-Faisal, Karachi. According to reports, the apex court found out in June 2021 that a large part of this Tower was constructed on encroached land reserved for a service road and hence ordered to demolish it. The court later dismissed all review petitions made by the owners and residents. The court also asked the builders to pay the cost of demolition and refund all residents who paid for the homes in the building.
The affectees held protests against the court’s decision with slogans like “take our corpses along with the rubble of our homes”. SC also ordered to disconnect water and electricity connections of the building on October 27 due to which residents were forced to abandon their homes. The demolition started on November 24 with heavy machinery and manual tools.
Supreme Court on Nasla Tower Demolition
SC said that the Nasla Tower was illegally built on encroached land which blocked a lot of things including the service road which was why it had to be demolished. The court’s decision was based on the grounds that encroachment has become a serious issue in Karachi. Many allegedly illegal structures have been razed due to being constructed on encroached land.
The defendants argued that this tower was not built on a service road but they were legally allotted the area. According to reports, the respective authorities allotted 780 square yards legally to 24 owners, who obtained the remaining area through other authorities later, bringing the total to 1044 square yards. Defendants also claimed that the allotted and obtained land neither belonged to the government nor private owner.
The defense failed to convince the court, which seemed determined to deal with encroachment. However, the court’s order is deemed debatable because the similar objections raised at Nasla Tower can be seen in the case of other buildings as well. According to reports, the court has previously absolved many such projects in exchange for a fine, so questions were raised as that why it could not legalize this building for the sake of residents living over there.
The Case of Bahria Town
In 2018, Supreme Court held that the elite housing society Bahria Town was encroaching on 6,000-kanal forest land in the Rakh Takht Pari area of Rawalpindi district. The Court said that Punjab government illegally gave the land to society and directed National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to file a reference against it. It said the basis of declaring the land occupation was illegal. Furthermore, the total forest land was 2,210 acres according to Punjab District Gazetteer Volume XXVIII (1907) and not 1,741 acres that were left today.
However, in response, Bahria Town requested the apex court to end the Takht Pari case as it was ready to purchase 684 acres of forest land. The urban developer paid a “proposal” of 13 billion PKR for the legalization of land but the court bench asked the society to suggest a “workable plan” to which it offered an additional 1.5 million PKR per kanal for regularizing encroachment on the forest. The court accepted the developer’s offer, suspending all investigations, and directed the Punjab government to provide all assistance to the society so development work could continue normally.
Many reacted in dismay when Supreme Court did not offer this relaxation in the case of Nasla Tower and forcefully evicted its residence.
The Case of Hotel Grand Hayat in Islamabad
Similarly, the court has also legalized the construction of the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Islamabad. In 2016, Capital Development Authority (CDA) terminated the controversial Grand Hyatt Hotel’s land lease, which was under construction on Constitution Avenue. According to the authority, the planned hotel violated the standard building and layout bylaws. The builder BNP was allotted the plot to construct a hotel but instead, it built a 40-story luxury apartment complex. These luxury apartments were then sold to high-profile buyers like celebrities, politicians, military officials, bureaucrats, and other famous personalities including Prime Minister Imran Khan.
The civil authority said that this tower falls within Margalla Hills Park area and residential apartments couldn’t be built here. However, the Supreme Court restored its lease in 2019 after BNP agreed to pay an 18 billion PKR fine without any determination method. The first installment of this agreement is due to be paid in January 2022.
Many people raised questions that if these elite projects were given impunity through paying a fine then why Nasla Tower, which was housing middle-class citizens, was the one getting destroyed. The critics are raising questions if they were meant to only invest in the likes of Bahria Town, DHA, NHS, or Askari in order to own a home in Karachi.
Are Nasla Tower Residents being Compensated?
The concern is also for the evacuated residents of Nasla Tower, who may or may not receive a full refund from the builders, as SC ordered. Jamaat-e-Islami (JI) leader Hafiz Naeem Ur Rehman demanded the Sindh government to ensure compensation and alternatives for the affected. He opined that the government itself must collect the money from builders and give it to residents as the Pakistani property scene is notorious for tricking homeowners at every step of the deal. Rehman recalled how many of these cases have been pending in courts for decades while stripping away of homes have been going on swiftly. JI leader also warned that if government pulls its support from the affected residents at this time, the protests may grow stronger.
There have been currently no reports saying whether residents received refunds or not. Barrister Aitzaz Ahsan of Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) said that these Nasla Tower residents were “Innocent Purchaser for Value without Notice” who did not know that they were being cheated while they were purchasing the flat in the tower. However, he also said that if the residents knew about the encroachment from the start and still made the purchase, then they were equally responsible as the builders.