RAHIM YAR KHAN: The owners of Roberts Agricultural Farm in Chak-95 have accused tenants of stealing 400 tons of wheat harvest and called in Saddar and City police officials.
The owners stated that the tenants under the leadership of Anjuman-e-Muzareen Punjab have over time transported the wheat to markets in remote villages.
Several police teams have tried to reach the farm and failed. Police officials have now limited themselves to a small camp that serves as a surveillance post near the farm.
The tenants have been protesting for over 20 days and have besieged the farm, blocking police officials and owners access. On May 11, the tenants pelted policemen with petrol bombs, stones and sticks to deter interference.
Subsequently, four men were arrested. The arrests have served only to provoke the Ghulam Rasool group of AMP even more.
The protestors say they have been cultivating the land for three generations and demand ownership rights as had repeatedly been promised by the Punjab government.
Tenants and owners have been at odds over ownership and the clash has escalated in the past few days.
The Punjab government sold the farm to corporate owners Haji Ibrahim, Mian Imtiaz Ahmed and Ijaz Ahmed during the tenure of Chaudhary Pervaiz Elahi.
The tenants usually receive their share of the wheat harvest under the supervision of inspectors hired by the district government. But the aggressive Ghulam Rasool group has refused to share the harvest with the owners. A majority of the tenants want an end to the clash and have stated that they would be happy to reach a negotiated deal.
But these tenants are in no position to oppose the Ghulam Rasool group.
Anjuman-e-Muzareen Punjab (AMP) President Chaudhary Abdul Rasheed and his group of serfs has already divided their share of the harvest and transported the wheat to the markets.
A few days ago, Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif requested the Lahore High Court to launch a judicial inquiry into the matter. Following his appeal, the chief justice of the LHC issued a notice to the district and sessions judge of Rahim Yar Khan asking him to submit an inquiry report.
The district government also set up a three-member committee constituting the EDO (revenue), EDO (finance) and SP investigations to supervise the harvest and its division but the siege laid down by the tenants kept the committee from completing its mission. The members were unable to enter Roberts Farm.
The Ghulam Rasool group is suspected of secretly being supported by some PML-N workers. The political clout wielded by the group is seen as the main hurdle in resolving the crisis.
Javed Warraich of the PPP spearheaded mediation between the serfs and the new owners. Chaudhary Abdul Rasheed’s group was quick to accept the deal. The majority of the dissenters had also warmed up to the agreement initiated by Javed Warraich. But the respite was short-lived.
Tensions flared up once again once Law Minister Rana Sanaullah and former Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi and Moonis Elahi spoke of giving the tenants ownership of the land.
Published in the Express Tribune, May 28th, 2010.