Mon. Dec 9th, 2019

CPEC-KKH Land Compensation: Of Elephants and Grass

Didar Ali

Countries of the world, through their governments, devise laws and provide legal authorities to acquire lands considering public needs or interests. The land can be used roads, schools/colleges/universities, hospitals, public offices and other infrastructures. The land owners are compensated for the land used. This process is usually called expropriation, and it is  a routine practice, involving no rocket science.

Sadly, however, in many countries of the world, weak expropriation laws leave the doors open for governments and national or multinational companies to occupy lands for their interests without satisfactorily compensating the owners, without considering current market price. It is a sad reality. Like many other countries Pakistan’s national laws fail to adopt international standards aimed at effectually limiting expropriation powers, and protecting land rights of locals, while at the same time ensuring accountable land governance.

Gilgit-Baltistan, the so-called administrative unit of the Pakistan, is undoubtedly the junction point of South and Central Asia, sharing borders with China, Afghanistan and India. Some  of  the land areas in this have had been settled  and  ownership had been formalized  through land  administration, following land act   of  Pakistan. However, a vast portion of the land still remains ‘unsettled’ so to say, creating confusion, and making local land owners vulnerable in so many different ways.

In the past, in Gilgit-Baltistan ownership right of lands remained with the local people of specific villages, who have had the ownership rights of individual and communal ownership around their jurisdictions.  These land masses were being governed under local customary laws, mostly within accordance with the laws of the now defunct states and fiefdoms, that existed in the area before British and Dogra occupation. Even the the Dogra occupation, the State-Subject Law ensured that the local land rmeained with the locals, and no outsider could settle in the area permanently, by purchasing land or other properties.

In the Dogra Raj, however, a major reform was imposed, dividing the land into three different sections, with the purpose of collecting taxes for the Dogra occupiers. Under this law, barren swathes of land were declared to be the land of the “Khalsa Sarkar”, or the State. This law deprived the locals of their own lands, while rewarding the occupying regime with vast swaths of land. This was a systematized way of disenfranchising the locals, and taking their liberties away, by confining them to their villages.

After Gilgit-Baltistan came under Pakistan’s administrative control, the authorities could have introduced a new, unified land revenue laws that could have protected individuals and communal rights. Forlornly, this hope of the locals could not be materialized. The same practice of dividing the locals land continued. Bureaucrats continued the same exploitative practices.

Today the souring fact is that the local and district administrations as well as the ‘provincial level’ Gilgit-Baltistan bureaucracy  takes advantage of such ill-defined laws, depriving poor farmers of their lands, while paying them peanuts, or sometimes even not that.

One such example is of the land used for expansion of the strategic Karakorum Highway (KKH), which runs through the GB region for around 400 km. Despite of the the locals land being used, the farmers and land owners have not been paid. The expansion project started in 2007. Thousands of farmers were unable to use their land during this period for cultivation of crops, because of the gag imposed by the administration. In Upper Hunza, due to the Attabad Landslide disaster, the expansion project hit a snag, while the local farmers’ land was dug and left worthless for several years.

In some areas, where the Karakoram Highway got submerged in the blocked river, the road was ‘realigned’, using cropped fields, orchards and other valuable pieces of land of the local. The landowners in Gojal Valley, Upper Hunza, remained unpaid for several years. Farmers and land owners in other parts of the region received partial payments in terms of compensation, but the disaster hit people of Gojal Valley were tricked and dragged through a long, torturous, process.

Hunza, despite of being the most literate and progressive society, terribly failed to get its fair share of compensation against their personal and communal lands.

With no effective political representation, and due to the internalized habit of servitude, the people of Hunza have not been able to assert themselves politically. Locals remains without basic facilities, like clean drinking water and electricity. Quality health and educational facilities are either rare, or non-existent. While no society can claim to be completely free of issues,what is saddening in the case of Hunza is that there is no serious effort at the political level to address these issues. Political parties act like fan clubs, while civil society organizations have not been able to make political rights a priority. Scrimmages on social media are galore, but there’s little substance.

Having witnessed all of this, I decided to fight for own right of land compensation, which I thought would ultimately benefit other affected landowners who had been waiting for this for over a decade. Efforts had, no doubt, been made to raise the issues at multiple levels, but everything proved to be futile. Even in this scenario, some habitual foragers tried to capitalize on people’s miseries, but theirs were short-lived efforts.

On 7th March 2018 I filed a complaint against National Highway Authority (NHA) – Islamabad with he National Ombudsman Islamabad (famously known as Wafaqi Mohtasib). Initially, I was the lone complainant initiator but later on Meherban Karim from Goze (Gulmit) and Aziz Ahmed also joined in. Since filing of the complaint, I have appeared in and attended 11 hearings; so far 13 hearings have been held.

It is surely a tiring process but we succeeded in getting to understand where exactly the entire process was clogged; we then focused on that area. Personally, I shared nothing regarding this case on social media but I have seen people talking gibberish and struggling to take undue credit.

The documents below are proofs of our action, and its impact.

Correspondence With Federal Ombudsman by PAMIR TIMES on Scribd

The reason behind writing these details is to let people know the real story behind the struggle.

It is being said that in a few days, CM-GB along with administrative officials and plenty other plenty of pseudo front-runners  will visit the area and bloviate, woof. Sadly, the locals will praise them, again, without knowing the real struggle.

Many individuals and local groups tried to get this compensation but the ways and means they used were wrong; none tried to follow the institutionalized and formal processes to get the required amount. Many remained stuck to social or print Medias, which proved futile.

During this, struggle Meherban, Aziz Ahmed, Uncle Didar Shah, Sher Khan Shishkat, Zeeshan, Mr. Zaheer, Jabbar Khan, Afzal Khan, Nisar Ahmed and GOLD as an organization helped me by many means. Without their support it would have been very difficult to reach this far.

In June 2018 after our complaints under Land Acquisition Act 1894, around PKR. 74,136,000 out of PKR. 42, 84, 98,117 was deposited into DC Hunza’s account for disbursement. However, the administration used all the delaying tactics, blocking the payments for as long as it could.

Soon this amount will be distributed and for the rest we will go to Wafaqi Mohtasib again, to ensure that the locals are paid in full.

There is another success regarding declaration and assurance of commercial areas and payment. Credit for that should be given to the locals who have struggled for it.

Apart from this, NAB Rawalpindi has also accepted our plea and they are looking at the matter of KKH land compensation and causes of delays; this has enraged the local administrations.

We had also written to President of Pakistan, Chief Justice Pakistan and Human Rights Cell of the Supreme Court. According to the officials of NHA, they have received notice  from Human Rights Cell Supreme Court of Pakistan, another reason they want to push the issue towards solution.

In coming months we will file a petition in GB Court against NHA and Local administration regarding the width of KKH road, as they have marked ROW but are paying for 44 feet only, which will damage the locals’ interests.

The local administration and NHA have come up with ridiculous instructions to restrict constructions alongside KKH, which is total unjust with landowners of the area. We will fight against this issue in the weeks and months ahead.

Overall, we progressed in finding the issues and struggled to push towards a desirable solution. This struggle will surely continue until conclusion.

These are some lessons and conclusion from our struggle.  Lack of true and dependable arrangements of land records, as well as registration and taxation, of this region has caused damages of massive magnitudes. The indigenous communities living along the roads are like grass, which will be crushed during the fights between elephants; it is up to the locals how they safeguard their own interest.

Absence of appropriate law, evenly valid to the whole region of GB will give space to evil minds and the administration will continue violation of rights in the regions. If the legal void is not addressed in time sincerely, it will source great disputes leading to grave consequences on CPEC projects in the area.

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