Nearly three decades ago, Islamabad realised that it needed to allow khokhas to set up shop in undeveloped areas of the city. Thus, it started issuing licenses and today roughly 500 khokhas pay a fee to operate.
Muhammad Sabir is one of these licensed khokha, or kiosk, owners. He has been running one on hiking Trail No. 5 in the Margalla hills for 27 years after being granted a licence in 1992 that has renewed periodically. This year, on February 27, he paid the environment directorate of the Capital Development Authority Rs72,000 for the year. So imagine his anger when in July, a CDA team attempted to demolish his khokha by calling it an encroachment.
Sabir went to court. And he has been joined by more than 100 other khokha owners who met the same fate.
Their petition was heard on Wednesday by Islamabad High Court Acting Chief Justice Aamer Farooq and Justice Miangul Hassan Aurangzeb. The court has summoned the city mayor to explain why licensed khokhas were mistaken for “encroachments”.
The CDA was ordered on July 3 to remove all khokhas in the city. Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani had remarked then that since khokhas were not part of the CDA master plan prepared in 1962 by Doxiade and Associate, they are all liable to be demolished. He said that all khokhas should be given at least 30 days to clear out their belongings and products.
However, barely a week later, on July 7, the CDA bulldozed more than 100 khokhas in the city. The stall owners were not informed ahead of time and many lost their belongings and stock.
At Wednesday’s hearing, the court asked CDA officials why they had acted against licenced khokhas. The officials replied that they had been following court orders issued on June 11 in the Safaa Mall case. The order was read out in court and it was pointed out that the judgement did not mention the demolition of khokhas anywhere.
“The city administration is required to work to get rid of illegal buildings and encroachments from the city,” the order reads, “clearing of all roads, providing of proper playgrounds, parks, and other amenities.”
The court expressed its anger at the CDA officials for confusing licenced khokhas with “encroachments”. The top judge said that the CDA accepted that it was granting licences to khokhas but was then calling them “encroachments”.
The CDA has been ordered to submit its original master plan in court and the hearing has been adjourned till August 1, Thursday.
Sabir’s lawyer, Umer Gilani, said that the demolition of the khokhas is part of the “anti-poor” bias, which is a pervasive feature of urban governance in Pakistan.
Khokhas tend to serve the needs of different communities, he told SAMAA Digital. “Sector 1-9 is an industrial area, so the khokhas there serve the labourers who just want some cheap food and chai after work,” he said. Then, there are khokhas which are made for students and are located near their university campuses. Some khokhas have been set up in recreational areas too.
“The khokhas are not, and never were, as some people falsely believe, tools for encroaching on public land,” the appeal states. “They were set up to serve the basic needs of the poorer residents of this city.”
More than 486 khokhas in Islamabad have been issued operating licences by the CDA. In 1986, the development authority had streamlined the process for issuing licences as well.
Three places were marked where they were allowed to operate:
1) Those in developing sectors: Khokhas were allowed to be set up in places where markets were being developed. The khokhas, however, had to be moved once the market opened.
2) Those along peripheral service roads of sectors and highways: The authority realised that there was a need to set up shops at the corners of different sectors so that people could buy cigarettes, cold drinks, newspapers and guide maps.
3) Those near parks and recreation centres: The authority allowed people to set up khokhas in parks so that people could buy drinks and snacks.
The licences were initially issued for three years but the owners were given the option to renew after expiry.
In the 2000s, the authority even ventured into improving the structure of the existing khokhas. Sabir’s khokha was turned into a ‘model kiosk’ during this time. The CDA provided him with architectural drawings which he used to reconstruct his khokha.