Upon some alleged land grabbers’ attempt to raze a historic graveyard in Saidu Sharif, the city’s locals have vowed to stand united to protect the cemetery.
The locals claim that the graveyard land was allocated to them by the last ruler of Swat, and add that upon the same land grabbers’ attempt to take possession of the burial ground around 25 years ago, a local court had issued a verdict in their favour. They also accuse the revenue department of “conniving with the land grabbers to rob the residents of the cemetery”.
“This is not the first time that the land grabbers have tried to take possession of the graveyard, or any land for that matter. But as the people stood against them earlier, thousands will stand against them again,” said a local lawyer, Advocate Attaullah Jan. He said that the graveyard is also used by the people of Amankot, Faizabad, College colony, Mingora, Shahdara Watkey, Sharif Abad, Panr, Gulkada, Rahimabad, Qambar and dozens of other villages. He added the people of these areas have asked their local elders to set up a grand jirga to resolve the issue.
Jan alleged that the land grabbers have also approached the army for “endorsing their illegal attempt to take over the land”, and requested the military authorities not to interfere in civil-nature cases.
A local political activist, Khalid Mahmood, accused the revenue department of issuing forged land ownership documents of the graveyard to the land grabbers. He appealed to the government and the Chief Justice of Pakistan to cancel all illegal documents issued by the revenue department. He also demanded that the graveyard land be demarked to resolve the issue permanently.
Mahmood warned that if the issue is not resolved, the people will be compelled to take extreme steps.
“If [the land grabbers] take this graveyard from us, we will have no place to bury our loved ones,” said a local resident, requesting not to be named. The graveyard is not only used by the people but also by state institutions, which bury unidentified bodies from hospitals and jails in the cemetery, said the local. The person claimed that the land grabbers are planning to begin construction at the site very soon and added that timely efforts are needed to prevent this.
Irshad Ahmad, a former Nazim of Faizabad-Amankot, claimed that the land grabbers have been illegally taking possession of lands belonging to people who have left the area and are living abroad. He too accused the revue department of colluding with the land grabbers.
When contacted, District Revenue Officer Swat Niaz Khan denied the revenue department’s involvement in forging documents or helping land grabbers to take possession of the graveyard land. He said the other party has valid documents endorsed by a high court in their favour. He said he has called in a meeting to hear the concerns of the people. “I will do my best to find an amicable solution.”
Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2012.
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