The business of unapproved and illegal housing schemes continues to grow in Rawalpindi district as there are only 26 housing societies which are approved while 276 are unregistered. With rapid urbanization, Rawalpindi city has also succumbed to unplanned development and an acute failure of the administration to enforce the building bylaws. As a result, irregular constructions have popped up all over the city and there is a growing trend of building residential structures on agricultural lands in the outskirts without obtaining the requisite permissions. The increasing population and housing needs have already turned large swathes of green lands, not only in Rawalpindi district but in other districts of the division including Jhelum, Chakwal and Attock, into concrete jungles in recent years. In Adiala Road, Fateh Jang road, Taxila, Murree, Kalar Syedan and several other areas, it was observed that housing societies were being constructed on the fertile land, which may have cascading effects on the food security in years to come. An expert on urbanization while talking to APP said if the same trend would continue for the next 10 to 20 years, people would not be able to buy any land in Rawalpindi division, given the way cities were growing and land mafias were acquiring land. The regulators had identified the illegal housing schemes but had so far failed to stop illegal business and could not take solid steps to devise a policy to stop others not to indulge in this unlawful activity. According to RDA sources, the applications from many housing societies for obtaining NOC had long been pending as they had failed to fulfill the requisite criteria. “People continue to purchase residential and commercial plots at exorbitant prices in the unapproved housing societies. The continuous business has been encouraging others to initiate more and more housing schemes with no obstruction from the authorities concerned”, an RDA official informed. He said the administration only informed the customers that certain housing schemes were not registered but took no concrete action against the business. He said that under the relevant laws, a housing scheme needed NOC from RDA after fulfilling requirements but when the housing schemes could not fulfill the requirements, they avoided the authorities. In recent years, illegal construction has spilled over farmland on the outskirts of the city, especially along Adiala, Chakri roads, Fateh Jang road and several other areas. Unregistered housing societies are buying large swaths of land from local farmers to develop residential and commercial buildings, violating the rules. But without obtaining any permission from the RDA or by following the prescribed rules, these societies threaten to not only reduce the available agricultural land, but also raise concerns over the future of the environment in these areas, along with water supply, sanitation, sewerage, and transportation. A RDA official,speaking on the condition of anonymity said the civic agency was grossly understaffed and underfunded. Furthermore, the official complained that RDA staff seldom got the required support from local revenue officers or the police when demarcating land and enforcing bylaws. He said the authority has advised the people not to invest in any illegal or fake housing society to keep them safe from any fraud or scam. A number of operations were also launched and strict action in accordance with the law was taken against the rules violators. Hundreds of illegal buildings were also demolished besides issuing notices to the administration of illegal house projects. First Information Reports were also registered in respective police stations against fake and illegal housing schemes, he claimed. It is pertinent to mention here that as many as 276 illegal schemes besides 68 fake housing schemes are currently operating in RDA jurisdiction. The authorities concerned of Attock District had also declared 68 housing societies operating in different areas of Attock, Hasanabdal and Fatehjang as illegal. The mushroom growth of illegal housing societies has also been noticed in Fatehjang where more than 50 illegal societies are operating, depriving innocent people of hard-earned money through attractive slogans and tall claims. Talking to APP, former Director Soil Conservation Department Rawalpindi Malik Ghulam Akbar said scarcity of land would lead directly towards a major problem; a growing food crisis. With urbanization and a growing population, landowners who earlier used to rent out their land to small farmers to grow wheat and other food crops realize that there is a lot more money to be made by developing housing societies. “In an agro-based economy like Pakistan’s, we cannot afford to lose agricultural land. The government must put a restriction and strict barriers to entry on development of housing schemes,“ he added. “This is a very dangerous phenomenon as it will not only affect the national food security but the environment as well. Pollution and smog have already touched alarming levels due to unplanned urbanization in several cities like Lahore. Further constructions on forest and agricultural lands will leave us nowhere, in terms of the environment,” he added. The government should take solid steps and devise a policy to stop the trend of establishing housing societies on agricultural land which if allowed might create problems for the country’s food security issue, he said. The Pakistan Tahreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government, he said, has already supported the idea of constructing high-rise buildings in the city to cope with the housing crunch and a policy in this regard should be formulated which must be implemented in letter and spirit, he added.