The inconspicuous and peaceful little settlements in Kathore and Boil dehs on the left side of the Super Highway are bracing for a tedious battle with the state. Signs of anger are already visible at Kathore’s entrance – the wall is marked with abuse for the Defence Housing Authority (DHA).
The people living here are angry that about 8,000 acres of their land was ‘bought’ by DHA, an army-run real estate developer, that says it will use 1,000 acres as compensation for the families of martyred soldiers. The Sindh government sold the land for peanuts, which they usually do when it comes to the armed forces. Every other day helicopters roam over the area as the land is surveyed, adding to the anxiety of the residents below.
On the official maps, Kathore and Boil appear to be barren land dotted with hills. At least this is what is shown on the hand-drawn maps of Sindh government’s revenue department. But the fact of the matter is that more than 13,000 people live in about a dozen villages scattered in the area. Their residents include Sindhi tribes such as the Burfats, Kachelos, Chuttos, Jokhios, Sheikhs, Bareejos, Gabols and the Baloch.
If the land is developed, children like seven-year-old Shahnawaz Chhutto might not be able to steal guavas from his neighbour’s tree anymore. Another resident, Muhammad Ali, lost his falsa (grewia) orchard that was sold without his consent.
Even the grave of Abdul Ghafoor’s grandfather, who settled here in 1913, has been marked for sale and so is his land which he uses for grazing cattle.
“The government did not even bother to see if anyone was living here,” says Karim Buksh Chhutto, a former Pakistan People’s Party councillor. “All this land was leased to us and we did not occupy it illegally. Each of these villages is over 70 years old.”
Kathore is technically a deh of Gadap Town. A deh is a revenue term used in many areas of rural Sindh while referring to part of a union council. Till the 1970s Gadap used to be part of Thatta district but it was included in the limits of Karachi between 1982 and 1983. The land of Kathore and Boil dehs was leased out to its residents for 30 years, at a cost of Rs50 per acre. The people mostly depend on agriculture and livestock rearing to make a living. But now that the leases have been cancelled arbitrarily the people also seemed to lose their right to irrigate, raise poultry and run dairy farms on the land.
Out of the 8,000 acres, only 1,000 acres were allocated for the families of around 3,000 soldiers who lost their lives in the fight against terror, according to the orders of President Asif Ali Zardari. But no one knows what DHA plans to do with the remaining 7,000 acres. The authority has already paid Rs800 million to the Sindh government for 8,000 acres and has leased it for 99 years.
The official value of the land is between Rs1.5 million and Rs6 million per acre, according to the documents available with The Express Tribune. But the market value is higher. However, the Sindh government sold it for Rs0.1 million per acre.
“If the chief minister really wants to give the land to the military then he should do that in his own constituency, Khairpur,” says Abdul Ghafoor of Lal Baksh Kachilo Goth.
None of the dozen people The Express Tribune talked to wanted to be compensated – and they had a good reason for it. When Malir Cantonment had expanded in 2002, the army had occupied 214 acres from Kathore.
Hence, people like Juma Khan are bitter. About 16 acres of his land was engulfed by the Malir Cantonment when it expanded. He points to the army check post on a hill nearby. “Every time the cattle wander within 200 meters of the cantonment area we get a warning,” he says. “They paid me Rs0.4 million for the trees which were on my land, but not a penny for the land itself.”
DHA Administrator Brig. Amir Raza and the director of military lands and cantonments, Zeenat Ahmed, did not respond to repeated requests for interviews.
For now, however, the residents of Kathore and Boil dehs are determined not to let their ancestral land be taken away again. “Can any amount compensate for the grave of my mother? Or the 50-year-old tree I have seen every day of my life? Or the home of my ancestors?” asks Ghafoor angrily. “I will fight. I will fight till the very end.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article had incorrectly stated that 1,000 acres of land will be used as a graveyard for martyred soldiers. The correction has been made.
Published in The Express Tribune, May 18th, 2012.