Land ‘grabbing’: Govt takes over ‘mismanaged’ land

Published: November 17, 2012

Accused of corruption, cooperative societies lose valuable land to Sindh government. DESIGN: FAIZAN DAWOOD.

KARACHI: 

Officials in the Sindh government have admitted to taking over land owned by cooperative societies. They claim, however, that rampant corruption in the societies’ management forced them to take these steps.

Moreover, the government has also appointed administrators for around 200 cooperative societies, overruling the elected committees.

Cooperative housing societies are associations owned and run by semi-governmental or non-governmental organisations for the social, economic and cultural benefit of their employees. Hundreds of such residential schemes are spread across Karachi, with around 131 in the KDAs’ Scheme 33 alone. Many projects have been in limbo for decades now with a number of them even encroached upon by land grabbers.

The societies can “legally” be taken over by the government through an appointment notification of administrators but it has no right to take over those working in a transparent manner without any allegations against them.

Several cooperatives societies have submitted their applications to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), the anti-corruption establishment, the chief minister’s inspection team and the police department, alleging that apart from selling their land, the administrators have even siphoned off the entire budgets of their societies. Of the 131 housing societies in scheme 33, around 40 have been taken over by the Sindh government, officials said.

“There have been no allegations of misappropriation against us even in the audits,” said Tahir Ahmed Sheikh, the secretary of the PIDC Employees Multipurpose Cooperative Housing Society. “One fails to understand why the government has taken over our society and started selling the plots.”

The revenue department had allotted the PIDC society land in the 1970s. The foundation works and gas pipelines have been laid at the housing scheme near the famous Bundu Khan Restaurant off the Karachi-Hyderabad highway. The Sindh government has now appointed an administrator and terminated the society’s elected body.

“After tampering the original records, the current administrator has sold off 500 plots to builders,” alleged Sheikh while talking to The Express Tribune. He also showed some advertisements in the daily Jang to support his claims.

The PIDC society secretary went on to say that the administrator has also withdrawn huge amounts from the society’s bank account. As per the rules, the government-appointed administrator can only withdraw Rs25,000 as salary with the consent of the society’s secretary.

Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s provincial minister Syed Sardar Ahmed told The Express Tribune that he had also received such complaints. “I’ve been told the administrator withdrew Rs10 million from August 2011 to May 2012 from the account of PIDC Employees Multipurpose Cooperative Housing Society,” he said.

He added that he had written a letter to the chief minister a couple of months ago. “Since the cooperative portfolio is held by the chief minister, I have requested him to remove all corrupt administrators and let the societies to use their legitimate right to elect their own people to run society affairs.”

A plot owner in Pakistan Broadcasting Cooperative Housing Society, Rizwan Khanzada, has sent evidence to the NAB how their plots have been sold out by the administrator.

“My father was a Radio Pakistan employee who had paid for the plot. We want know under which authority our plots are being given to a third party without our consent,” he said. “Earlier, some land grabbers had taken over a few plots in the society but now the government is doing the same thing.”

Abdul Hai, a plot owner in Nagori housing society, said the government had not issued any notification before taking over the society. “We are the owners but the government officials are eyeing our future homes because the land has become valuable [over the years],” he said. The plot owners had filed a court petition three years ago but the decision has yet to be announced.

Sindh Cooperative secretary Azhar Baloch refuted all the allegations, claiming that the department has the mandate to supervise the working of cooperative societies and take action against the corrupt ones. “The corrupt office bearers of these societies pocketed millions of rupees from retired people and their families by allotting plots among their own relatives,” he alleged. “We have taken action after a number of complaints were filed against them.”

“I do not remember the exact figure but many societies are still working independently because of their good track record,” Baloch said when asked about the number of societies taken over by the Sindh government.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 17th, 2012.

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