Recently the Government of Punjab carried out one of the most successful anti-encroachment operations in the history of the province. State land worth billions of rupees has been recovered from encroachers who had made it their permanent business and residential centres for years with definite support from political and other authorities concerned.
Land grabbing is not a new thing in the country, and has been going on for almost three quarters of a century. This is mainly because the country’s laws are a continuation of the colonial legal system, especially when it comes to land. Flaws in the land regulation system have allowed the authorities concerned to become complicit in the robbing of state land. This illegal business picked up pace with the rise of the class that needed residential accommodation in a comparatively better but cheaper environment. In a bid to cash in on this sudden boom in the construction business, housing authorities teamed up with property developers to take hold of maximum area of land, by hook or by crook.
To clean up the mess of the past 70 years or so, the incumbent Punjab government launched a campaign, spearheaded by a Supreme Court decision, against encroachments and land grabbing. Anti-encroachment committees were set up in all the districts of Punjab. The committees, headed by deputy commissioners, were tasked with planning and monitoring operations against land grabbers and encroachments on a daily basis. Special directives were issued that street vendors, labourers and residents of slums should not be disturbed during the operation. This was in line with the PTI government’s policy to protect the poor and the socially weak at all costs.
As part of the drive against encroachments, indiscriminate action had been initiated against powerful land grabbers during the first 100 days of the PTI government. During the drive, according to Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, a total of 759,428 kanals of precious state lands worth trillions of rupees had been recovered from various squatters. Over 56,264 kanals have been recovered in Lahore, 22,788 kanals in Gujranwala division and 136,000 kanals in Faisalabad division. Similarly, 7,350 kanals have been retrieved in Rawalpindi, 405,665 kanals in DG Khan division, 14,563 kanals in Bahawalpur division, 36,000 kanals in Sahiwal division, 56,284 kanals in Sargodha division and 24,000 kanals in Multan division.
The drive hasn’t been an easy one. In the past, political and business interests discouraged such drives as it benefited a select few economically. The PTI government took this difficult decision, despite some unpopular opinion, because it will prove beneficial for the people in the long run. A data bank has already been established for the best utilisation of the recovered lands and a proper plan is being developed for what are the different uses these lands in central locations can provide. Zoning of this land will be made to best utilise it in projects of public interest. The retrieved land can be effectively used to construct new, low-cost housing units for the middle and lower middle class segments of society, shelter homes for the homeless and markets for robust economic activity. Such properly-planned projects spearheaded by the government, and not a select few individuals, will not only provide livelihood opportunities but also stimulate economic growth and employment. One sector that can immediately benefit from all this is the construction sector.
The first crucial step has been taken and now in a short time span the benefits of the anti-encroachment drive will be visible for all to see.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2018.
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