The minefield that is land

The problem is that even if an individual is the owner of a piece of land that ownership can be usurped

Editorial March 23, 2018

Aside from faith and politics there are few issues that inspire more acrimony in Pakistan than land, who does or does not own it, who has rights over it and who does not. Families go to war over land. Land is encroached illegally and the legal owners find little redress in the law, and the law itself does little to help anybody — a current case in Islamabad being a textbook example.

The problem is that even if an individual is the owner of a piece of land that ownership can be usurped, legally, by the government under the Land Acquisition Act (LAA) which can force people to sell their land if it is deemed to be needed now or in the future for a public purpose. The residents of G-12 and F-12 in Islamabad expressed their fears through the National Assembly Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat on Wednesday, March 21st, and they had a valid point to make. They allege that assorted politicians, bureaucrats, lawyers and journalists effectively conspire together to force the sale of their land at a rate that is less than advantageous and negatively affects the livelihood of many. The LAA dates from 1894 at the height of colonial rule, and has never been revised or replaced because it suits the rich and powerful.

During the committee meeting, the Capital Development Authority (CDA) contended that those affected are compensated with a one-kanal plot for four kanals of land, a deal that at the very least appears a rip-off. It further transpires that there is nothing new about the dispute — the CDA had acquired the land in 1985 but the owners had been dissatisfied with the price, and continued to occupy the land in many cases developing it extensively. What is urgently needed is some legislative housekeeping. Laws with a colonial origin rarely fare well in the modern world — the Frontier Crimes Regulations for instance — and the LAA of 1894 are no different. This may not be the most pressing item on the government agenda but it needs untangling and resolving for the good of all. Soon.

Published in The Express Tribune, March 23rd, 2018.

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