Land reforms have been a distant dream for a common man in Pakistan. Contrary to India, Pakistani politicians rarely took any purposeful steps in this regard. If a step was taken, the landholding troika of feudals, politicians and clergymen left no stone unturned in order to foil the effort.
Issues around the allocation of land to agri-graduates are no different. The forestry land that the Punjab government allocated to agriculture graduates in 2009 has yet to be transferred to them. MPAs and the MNAs from the ruling PML-N, which was also the ruling party in Punjab at the time of allocation, have been accused of throwing a barrage of spanners into the works.
Even after repeated appeals, the authorities concerned have shown little interest in resolving the issue.
Irrespective of political affiliation, MPAs in the province have traditionally leased land from the provincial agriculture department for prolonged periods of time.
When the announcement was made five years ago, many of these MPAs felt threatened and opposed any transfer of land, an affected person said. He added that legislators with feudal backgrounds have used local clergymen to enforce their positions and resist any move that could result in them losing control of the land.
Muhammad Shehram Qaisar, an agriculture graduate, who hails from Sargodha, told The Express Tribune that the Punjab Government announced the project in order to boost agriculture production. He said that the Forest Department identified a forest area of almost 23,341 acres. Qaiser said that the area could be utilised optimally for agro-forestry. “These areas cannot be given to just anyone because the agro-forestry model requires appropriate technical knowledge,” he added.
Qaiser said technical knowledge is exactly why the government decided to lease out the land through balloting to jobless graduates in their respective districts. Every graduate was allocated 24 acres.
He said that people already serving in agriculture department and even pensioners had also applied for land. Qaiser said that the government later issued a notification that only graduates under the age of 35 would be entertained. He added that balloting took place in 14 districts and names of successful candidates were announced soon after.
He said the overage applicants later went to court and the case was still pending.
Qaiser said when successful applicants approached the provincial government and the forest department requesting that they be given possession of the land, they were told that the land could not be transferred due to the pending court case.
He suggested that the Forest Department was not happy with the leasing of land to the graduates. “Some of these officials also acquire land on lease,” he claimed.
Muhammad Ishfaq, another successful applicant, said graduates and their parents had approached politicians from the ruling party including Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif, but in vain.
Shah Behraam, a lawyer working on the case, told The Express Tribune that the government of Punjab was responsible for the “whole mess”. He said that there were some PML-N MPAs who did not want to hand over the land to the students.
Yasir Munnawar Cheema, another lawyer, told The Express Tribune that the Punjab government was deliberately using delaying tactics. He said that most of the time, the government lawyer was absent from scheduled hearings.
Yousaf Tareen, a successful applicant from Rajanpur District, told The Express Tribune that prior to the announcement of this scheme, the government also announced it would allocate 12 acres to every graduate. He said that the land even under this scheme could not be handed over to the students in any district or tehsil of southern Punjab, especially DG Khan, Rajanpur and Muzaffargarh, due to feudal mindsets of local politicians.
Tareen accused Punjab Assembly Deputy Speaker Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani of being the cause of problems in Rajanpur. He claimed that the minister used all means to stop the distribution of land in Rajanpur District and Jampur Tehsil because the land was “already illegally occupied by Gorchani’s supporters.”
Pir Mehr Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University (PMA-AU) Vice-Chancellor (VC) Dr Rai Niaz Ahmad told The Express Tribune that it was a revolutionary step on the part of the Punjab Government but it was unfortunate that the land could not be handed over to the young graduates. He said that the step could give a boost to agricultural productivity.
Sardar Sher Ali Gorchani and Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif were not available for comment but the CM office informed The Express Tribune the matter was in their notice and the agriculture minister would be able to provide more details.
Interestingly, when contacted, Punjab Minister for Agriculture Dr Farrukh Javed said he did not have any knowledge of the ’24-acre scheme’. He said the Punjab government did conduct two meetings for the 12-acre scheme because there were water scarcity issues in some areas. He added that land had since been handed over to all successful applicants in the 12-acre scheme.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th,2014.