In February this year, the district administration of Chakwal launched a much-hyped campaign against the land mafia to retrieve over 2,000 kanals of state land from its possession. However, against the expectations of the citizens, the move ended on a whimper.
It was the political pressure and halfhearted approach by the officials concerned due to which the land could not be retrieved from the influential land grabbers. However, the district administration retrieved about 100 kanals from daily wage workers, rickshaw drivers and hawkers who had bought the land from fraudsters on fake affidavits. Currently, the public land measuring over 2,000 kanals is in the illegal occupation in the city while the district administration does not know how much state land has been lost to the land grabbers different villages.
How the drive launched to retrieve the public land failed could be gauged from the following case.
On Dec 14, 2015, Munshi Khan, 70, an activist of the ruling PML-N from Sarkal Kassar village, approached the assistant commissioner of Chakwal with the reference of PML-N MNA Iffat Liaquat. According to a report (copy available with Dawn) sent to the chief secretary Punjab by the AC, Munshi Khan submitted a written complaint claiming that 5.2 kanals belonging to the education department was in the illegal occupation of Lal Hussain and his brother Nazar Hussain in the same village. Mr Khan sought the retrieval of the public land from the occupiers.
The same day, the district officer education also submitted an application to the AC requesting the retrieval of the land pointed out in the application filed by Munshi Khan.
The AC directed the circle revenue officer to look into the matter. The revenue officer along with his team visited the village and reported back that Lal Hussain and his brother Nazar Hussain had occupied the public land.
But the following day, Nazar Hussain also submitted an application to the AC claiming that Munshi Khan was also occupying a piece of public land in the village.
On Dec 22, 2015, the then assistant commissioner Mussawar Ahmed Khan Niazi personally visited the village along with other officials and found both Munshi Khan and Nazar Hussain illegally occupying public land.
The AC ordered legal action against the land grabbers. A case was registered against Munshi Khan, Nazar Hussain, Lal Hussain and two other persons with the Dhudial police.
Both Munshi Khan and Nazar Hussain belonged to the ruling PML-N. However, Munshi Khan has close ties with MPA Chaudhry Liaquat Ali Khan whose wife Iffat Liaquat is the MNA. “Munshi Khan is politically active. To teach his rival Nazar Hussain a lesson, he met MNA Iffat Liaquat who sent him to the AC,” an official privy to the development told Dawn.
MNA Iffat Liaquat was left surprised when she came to know that Munshi Khan himself was booked on the charges of illegally occupying the public land.
The MNA made a phone call to the district coordination officer (DCO) and complained about the action taken by the AC against Munshi Khan. On the direction of the DCO, the AC briefed the MNA that the action was taken as per the law. But the MNA insisted that the FIR should be quashed. However, the AC told her that the FIR could only be quashed by the district police officer.
Ms Liaquat complained to the chief secretary against the AC. The chief secretary directed the AC to submit a report but when the AC briefed him about the matter the chief secretary appreciated the action launched against the land grabbers.
“The incident became a bone of contention between the AC and the MPA house. In the wake of the incident, the MPA house started efforts to get the AC transferred from Chakwal,” a senior official told Dawn.
Though the MPA house could not get the AC transferred, the land also could not be retrieved from the land grabbers.
Dawn has learnt that there is more than 20 kanals of public land called Shamlaat Mufid-i-Aam (common land) in the Sarkal Kassar village.
Another case was witnessed in Dhakku village where Shamlaat land was sold off by influential people. The buyer of the land constructed a road for his housing project while in the same village 22 kanals of Shamlaat land located on the other side of the village has been occupied by another influential person.
The land which was used as a playground has now been turned into a field which is ploughed and cultivated.
The custodian of such land is the district collector who is also the district coordination officer. But due to the lethargy of the district administration of Chakwal, the public land in the Sarkal Kassar village has been lost to the land grabbers. Shops, houses and a mosque have been built on the land.
Munshi Khan is not ready to vacate the land. “The land which is in my occupation was bought by my father and the money he paid for the land was used in the construction of a mosque,” he told Dawn.
Nazar Hussain admitted that he was occupying the land illegally but said he was ready to vacate it if his rival did the same.
Repeated attempts were made to get the version of MNA Iffat Liaquat but she could not be contacted. However, her son Chaudhry Haider Sultan, who presents his parents in almost every meeting in the district, told Dawn that they had nothing to do with the issue.
“I believe that public land everywhere should be retrieved and action should be taken across the board,” he said.
When contacted, DCO Mehmood Javed Bhatti said he would look into the issue.
Published in Dawn, July 31st, 2016