HYDERABAD: The controversy over the possession of land revenue records seems likely to re-emerge, pitting the district administration against the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM)-Pakistan-held Hyderabad Municipal Corporation (HMC).
The cause of contention is who will keep the record of rights - the details of private ownership of land, residential and commercial structures - of Latifabad taluka and collect taxes and the associated bribes.
The contentious issue resurfaced during a recent anti-encroachment operation for road widening in Latifabad's Unit 6. The Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) objected to the razing of 20 houses, allegedly built on encroached land along the main road, accusing the corporation's officials of highhandedness.
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In the subsequent inquiry report, given to Latifabad Assistant Commissioner Nisar Ahmed Memon, it was disclosed that the entirety of the records of rights of all 12 units of Latifabad is with the HMC.
"Latifabad taluka consists of urban areas and the record of rights of the entire Latifabad township … is lying with the HMC and all the transactions in respect to [property] mutations, conversions and ownership are being carried out by them, though the HMC has no concern with this record," reads the report submitted to the provincial government about the anti-encroachment action.
Memon wrote that his office can neither confirm nor deny ownership of land of the demolished houses in the absence of the record of rights.
One of the four revenue talukas in Hyderabad district, Latifabad happens to be the only planned settlement. It was established in the early 1950s to provide housing to Indian immigrants. Most of the land was either donated or acquired from descendants of the Talpur dynasty.
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Currently, it is the second most populated taluka in Hyderabad after the historic City taluka. It is represented by one National Assembly member and two Sindh Assembly members and the representation is likely to increase after the ongoing population census.
Many commercial markets, including the rapidly growing commercial high street, the six-kilometre-long Autobahn Road, are located in Latifabad.
On the basis of the Supreme Court's 2012 judgment, the district administration wants the HMC to hand over the record of rights to the revenue department. "[A] mukhtiarkar was declared the custodian of the record of rights by the judgment," observed Deputy Commissioner Anwar Ali Shar.
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"… under these circumstances, we are constrained to direct the deputy commissioners/district coordination officers of Sindh to immediately ensure that the entire revenue record of all the district[s] is kept in the custody of mukhtiarkar," reads the apex court's order.
Shar said he is digging into the facts to know how, for so many decades, the land survey of Latifabad was not completed, in order to hand over the records to the revenue department.
According to official sources, the district administration is mulling over four options. "One way is to take the matter to the Sindh government and suggest an official notification for the handover. Requesting the senior member of the Board of Revenue to take up the issue or filing a petition in court or seeking an order from the [Sindh High Court's] water commission are also being thought about," the official told The Express Tribune.
For their part, the HMC officials claim to have been given the legal right to possess the records as well as collect taxes. "Latifabad was among the three satellite towns established in Sindh for Indian migrants starting with [the] approval of the map in 1951," said HMC Land Director Qamar Shaikh. The two other satellite towns are in Mirpurkhas and Nawabshah.
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According to him, on May 1, 1976, the Sindh government elevated the status of the Hyderabad Municipal Committee to Hyderabad Municipal Corporation. He added that Latifabad, along with its assets and liabilities, was handed over to the corporation through the same notification.
Shaikh said though he has not read the apex court's judgment about the record of rights, he believed that the district administration is wrongly interpreting the judicial order. Responding to the queries, he briefly admitted that transfer of the records to the revenue department is supposed to be done after completion of the land survey. But, Shaikh turned back to his assertion that the corporation is lawfully authorised to keep the records.
A revenue official, who requested anonymity, claimed that the land survey of Latifabad's units was almost completed around 10 years ago. "But the former nazim, Kanwar Navaid [of MQM], by using his political influence, stalled the process," he alleged. Navaid could not be contacted for his version.
Taxes and bribes
For the property lawyers and agents, selecting between the HMC and revenue officials as an ideal holder of the revenue records is a choice between taxes, bribes and quick processing. "The sarkari [taxes] and darbari [bribe] fees are both far higher at the HMC than what we have to pay at the sub-registrar's office [of the revenue department]," alleged a property agent, who requested anonymity. "But the HMC processes cases of property mutation, transfer of property to heirs of deceased and other transactions in days compared to the months taken by the revenue officials."
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Giving an example, he explained that if the mutation of a property costs Rs15,000 in City taluka and Rs22,000 in Qasimabad taluka, one ends up paying up to Rs45,000 in Latifabad taluka.
A lawyer, who also requested anonymity, contended that the transfer of records to the revenue department is long overdue. "One reason is that the record is supposed to be in the custody of the mukhtiarkar. And the other is that it will benefit the people who will no longer have to pay higher sarkari and darbari fees to the HMC."
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