By,Abid Siddique Chaudhry
Islamabad March 22, 2021: Former Senator and Secretary General of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party Parliamentarians has expressed grave concern over the reports of denuding of mango orchards and converting into urban property over the past years by the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Multan.
Reckless conversion of mango orchards and farmlands into urban property will have a disastrous impact on agriculture, food security and environment he said in a statement today.
“Food security is far more important than building housing authorities”, he said and called for transparent inquiry into the reports.
Reports that tens of thousands of mango trees have been felled and land under mango orchards taken over for urban housing development are disturbing he said. Apart from transparent inquiry what is needed is course correction and a plan to protect farmlands and fruit orchards, he said.
Farhatullah Babar also raised questions about how the urban property developer the DHAs had proliferated in the country and at what cost.
The first DHA was set up under a martial law order in mid 80’s by General Zia by illegally taking over a private housing body. The Order was never placed before the Parliament for validation and instead made part of Constitution at the time of lifting of martial law so that even the Parliament could not change it easily.
General Musharraf added two more DHAs in Lahore and Islamabad during his tenrure. DHA Lahore was set up through a Presidential Order in October 2002 again by taking over a private housing society. This order also was not placed before the Parliament.
DHA Islamabad was set up in Feb 2005 again through an ordinance. The manner in which the fig leaf of legal cover was given to the DHAs is evident from a perusal of the record of parliamentary proceedings which also made some startling disclosures about Pakistan’s largest urban property developer. The numbers have since steadily increased and from one DHA in 1980’s there were nearly ten DHAs in the country.
He said Pakistan is committed to achieving targets of sustainable development set out in the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) including environmental protection. Pakistan’s national parliament was among the first in the world to endorse it.
He urged the government to reevaluate the urban housing development by the DHAs in the country and address the issues that only generated controversies. Credible assurances must be given that DHAs and other urban development schemes will not be allowed at the cost of agriculture, orchard farms, food security and environmental protection, he said.