Islamabad-The Capital Development Authority (CDA) seemed to have succumbed to the pressure exerted by the encroaching traders of the capital markets despite the fact that the anti-encroachment operation was appreciated by a segment of the community.

Soon after the teams of Enforcement Directorate conducted an operation to remove sheds and other encroachments from the Aabpara Market at the weekend, a number of traders reached the Mayor office with a narrative that the CDA teams have exceeded from their limits and removed what was not necessary to ease movement of the pedestrians. The CDA teams have had removed movables from the corridors, canopies and sheds that were erected illegally in front of the shops. The Enforcement Directorate teams demolished 200 sheds constructed illegally in front of different shops and plazas of Aabpara Market. Moreover, 35 illegally constructed shops, within the plazas of the market were also demolished. Some supported the operation while others opposed it and the latter seemed to have dominated the will of the Authority with no follow up operation.

Again on Monday, a representative group of Traders Action Committee met with Mayor Islamabad Sheikh Anser Aziz to demand even regularisation of the encroachments - canopies and sheds. The group led by Ajmal Baloch, according to a press release, asked the Mayor to legitimize canopy and sheds in front of the shops in the city markets. The traders demanded that anti-encroachment operation be undertaken after taking the traders into confidence. They said the CDA teams must not interfere in the basements of the plazas. They further demanded that concerned union council must be approached before the operation in the future. According to the press release, the Mayor termed himself an elected representative of traders and Sardar Mehtab Khan, a UC chairman has been appointed focal person on the issue.

The division between the traders on the issue is visible as another group of traders has posted a banner at the main gate of CDA headquarter, inscribed with expression of thanks to the CDA teams who conducted operation to clear the encroachments from the city markets. The press release from the group which met the Mayor on Monday said: “the conspiracies have come to an end with the authorities recognising the traders’ delegation as representative of the community”, strengthening the impression of division between the traders’ groups.

To further pressurise the CDA on the issue, office-bearers of All Pakistan Tajir Ittehad also urged the Authority to take market associations into confidence before launching any campaign against the encroachments. Terming it use of state force, Central President All Pakistan Tajir Ittehad, Muhammad Kashif Chaudhary said the recent anti-encroachment drive has caused tension between the local government and the trader community. Terming it an unjustified operation, he demanded the Authority to halt it immediately so that trader organisations could be heard on the issue. So much so, he said, the operation could lead to a clash between the Authority officials and the traders and demanded that honest officials should be deputed at the markets so that they do not encourage encroachments for monetary benefits. He also demanded that the officials should avoid losses to the community during the operation. He took a plea that removal of canopy, sheds and clearing verandas and basements is not mandate of the Enforcement Directorate, rather it falls within the domain of Building Control Section of the CDA. He also demanded the Authority to exercise leniency on the issue.

The traders seem to have started a campaign against the anti-encroachment operations at a time when a ‘political body’ is running affairs of the Authority. Removal of encroachments from city markets has had been a longstanding demand of the residents who time and again called for action against the encroachers. The business centres in Blue Area, Super Market, Aabpara Market, Jinnah Super Market and other commercial centres of thecity are crowded with encroachers while footpaths and roadsides are occupied by the vendors. The CDA occasionally launches the anti-encroachment operations, and the very next day, the same situation is observed across the city. The residents and even a segment of traders believe that most of the encroachers have the backing of the officials of the Enforcement directorate who get monthly payments from them.

The encroachments on footpaths and roads in the name of security measures by placing sand bags and barbed wires are another phenomenon the CDA is fighting with.  CDA has always been very lenient as far as encroachments in the name of security are concerned. Schools, mosques, foreigners’ residences and big hotels are reflection of the same. Taking advantage of the CDA’s leniency, some private organisations and residents have also started encroaching upon roads and footpaths in the name of security. Offices of political parties are no exception, which have erected barbed wire and huge piles of sand bags to protect the premises. At some places, the roads are completely closed and all this is being done in the name of security. Margalla Road, which is a busy road, is partially occupied by the Pakistan Air Force and Pakistan Navy and creates a lot of inconvenience for commuters during rush hours. NESCOM has blocked part of the road passing its campus in sector H-11. Marriott Hotel is also encroaching upon part of the road passing it.  The Diplomatic Enclave is an area where encroachment abounds. Various pieces of land have been taken over by foreign offices and embassies in order to safeguard them from terrorism threats.

Mayor Islamabad Sheikh Ansar Aziz, in the wake of Aabpara anti-encroachment operation a few days before, had said that Aabpara Market was losing its beauty due to increasing encroachments, adding a number of complaints were also received from the general public regarding encroachments in the market.

He said that in the past anti-encroachment operations were conducted but not a single operation remained successful. “Therefore, a well-planned and coordinated operation was required for complete eradication of encroachments from Aabpara Market,” he viewed. It is to be seen whether he abides by the promise or succumbs to the pressure of the traders on the issue.