A well-worn subject has been dug up by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) of the National Assembly: how and why “bureaucrats, judges and generals” get to own residential plots on state land? The reason ostensibly is that the PAC is convinced that this is being done without “a comprehensive policy and clear rules and guidelines”. Headed by a PPP MNA, the PAC might arouse suspicions of intended targeting of the perceived opposition. But it seems upset about some individual beneficiaries owning more than one plot and wants to know why they are treated differently from the others. On the face of it, the PAC finds this policy “irrational”.
Apparently, the objection is to some persons walking away with multiple plots of lands, not to the idea of their getting plots. The PAC noted that in the past, too, a chairman of the PAC, Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan, had tried to inquire into the logic of allotments but had got nowhere with the establishment that actually handles the matter. People with power and punch get plots and even arable land allotted to them in the provinces. Old centres of power, which still carry wallop, may yet force the PAC to look other way, but the new emerging centres of power will be upset by this move.
The PPP will be challenged in its motive. The establishment, already not very impressed with its governance may drag its feet to tide over the time left for this PAC to do its job since elections are around the corner. If this is witch-hunting against the judges and the generals — the two categories seen by some PPP stalwarts as acting in tandem against the party — it is not going anywhere except that it highlights an issue that should have been tackled a long time ago. The issue can be framed like this: land in the capital territory is finite while the stream of bureaucrats, judges and generals is endless.
The issue relates to other developments far afield. We know that senior military officers get their plots one way or another but they also get to own plots in Islamabad. One recent example was that of the head of the NAB, a naval officer who was entitled to a plot in Islamabad but was ignored by the then Army Chief who didn’t like him too much. But the logic of generals getting agricultural land is subject to the same logic: what if 50 years from now the country runs out of land? The extended logic is: what if the land around Islamabad runs out?
There is the land market to consider: people with money buy plots from estate agents and build in Islamabad. The drab sections of Islamabad are covered with residences of bureaucrats that should not be there if the market rules are applied. In the eyes of many, market rules should apply because that would earn money for the state exchequer. The PAC clearly states that the plots are currently given out at state expense.
We know that the plots in the cantonments are originally meant for men serving in the military, but once commercialised, these settlements become highly leveraged enterprises where the officers can make windfall profits simply by selling the plots at the going market rate. Some officers get into the informal trade of buying and selling plots and emerge as tycoons in their own right. The practice of giving out land to the upper crust of the establishment is untenable in the long run.
Already, Islamabad has become a stronghold of the bureaucratic elite. It is often said that Islamabad is “spiritually dead” and intellectually warped because it is not a normal city growing under the natural law of city development. One might add here a core of powerful journalists who get to own plots because of their ‘persuasive power’ with the ruling elite. We don’t know how this breed — doing ‘accountability’ as the fourth pillar of the state — enriches the cityscape, but the fact is that there is also the practice of bestowing plots as bribe. Some practitioners of the profession have been know to own several plots, although the PAC may not be inclined to name them.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.
More in EditorialHouse of horrors