Housing units’ monetisation plan to change Islamabad character

ISLAMABAD, Sept 18: The skyline of the federal capital is set for a dramatic overhaul if all goes according to the Capital Development Authority’s plans.

Dawn has learnt that the civic agency’s urban planning wing is drafting blueprints for skyscrapers in sectors G-6 and F-6 on land that currently has 2,251 government residential units. The plan proposes a special zone over an area of 371 acres of mixed use with high-rise development on the lines of that in Hong Kong.

In a communication with the newspaper, chairman CDA Farkhand Iqbal defended the plans as a means of “economic generation”.

“We are hoping to generate handsome revenue from the sale of government residences,” he said.

Indeed, some insiders claim that it is expected to fetch around Rs147.5 billion from local and foreign investors.

The skyscraper proposal landed in the office of the Finance Minister a few months back, and he directed the Planning Commission in August to evaluate the political fallout of the plan.

The monetisation of housing units of federal government lands had been approved in April, and a complete revision of existing planning parameters, rezoning and land re-classification had been expected.

“An official had informed the outgoing Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani that housing federal government employees in F-6 and other posh localities of the sector is just wastage of precious land,” added an official, who has been part of different meetings on monetisation of housing units.

“Only eight per cent of federal government employees are housed in residential facilities owned by the federal government, 20 per cent live in rented accommodation and 70 per cent get house rent allowance,” said the official.

According to a presentation of the CDA, the skyscraper project would be part of the Planning Commission’s ‘New Framework for Economic Growth’, and would have apartment buildings and commercial plazas as well as new public sector buildings.

“CDA  also wants the government to establish a Real Estate Development Company to prepare business plans to attract local as well as international investors for investment in the special zone of mixed use high-rise development,” maintained one senior official of the CDA board.

On the other hand, a key official of the federal government, not willing to share his name said: “It’s more like raping the capital city of its green character since skyscrapers will be established on government residential areas in the most quiet and serene sector of F-6.”

“The losers will be none other than civil servants and a number of defence establishment officials living in posh federal government accommodations in different parts of the city,” added the official.

“The government wants to benefit someone highly influential and this whole process is quite shady,” insisted the official.

An official of the Public Works Department shared a similar opinion: “It’s just a pilot project and the whole drive will render thousands of federal government employees homeless and government will be paying just a limited compensation in terms of house rent to its employees in the future.”

Likewise, a federal secretary told Dawn: “It’s quite strange on the part of the PPP government that it wants to sell the whole of the Islamabad to foreign investors and the original master plan of the city is ignored by the Prime Minister’s office and the Presidency.”

But the CDA chairman Mr Iqbal claimed: “Nowhere in the world does a civil servant hold over 1000 sq yd accommodation but in Islamabad this is common.”

The chairman CDA asserted: “This concept will help us meet the modern development trends since CDA will be developing 25-storey towers and commercial plazas. The first few floors of the plazas will be designated for commercial purpose while the rest of the floors will be residential apartments.”

When asked if Islamabad will lose its green character besides the civil servants will be left without accommodation, replied: “The government wants to generate funds and frankly the Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf has shown his keen interest in the proposed plan.”

“Islamabad will not lose its green character and it’s wrong to say that future construction will damage city’s serene face,” claimed the chairman.

He said that media should attach no controversy with this plan since it is not meant to support any mighty or powerful developer.

Mr Iqbal insisted: “The proposed project will be implemented but I can’t give an exact timeframe for that.”

A federal government employee working in the Ministry of Capital Administration and Development told Dawn: “We will approach the Supreme Court if things go the way the PPP government is planning for monetisation of the housing units.”

He said it was quite strange that without consulting any officials the PPP government was politically motivated to go ahead with the plan.
“The office of the president and the prime minister should give a second thought to the idea since it will be like selling Islamabad to property tycoons and building developers who always cash in on such properties,” added an official in the Ministry of Regulations and Services Division.

A civil servant belonging to a defence establishment observed: “Disturbing the civil servants in the capital will affect the smooth working of the government.”