The revelations of an inquiry by a district and sessions judge in Islamabad concerning alleged land-grabbing activities in the vicinity of the capital are an eye-opener. The 115-page report was ordered by the Supreme Court in the aftermath of a 2008 killing resulting from a land dispute. Based on the accounts of eyewitnesses and victims of alleged land-grabbing, the report is the first official attempt to document the incidence and scale of an activity that renders people homeless and without employment.
The victims are usually poor and unable to stand up to bureaucratic and political pressure. The inquiry found that nearly 30,000 kanals of public and private land in rural Islamabad have been illegally acquired by three leading real estate developers. The latter have allegedly resorted to murder and implicated people in false cases. Since the developers named in the report operate on a national level, a more accurate picture of their land-grabbing activities across the country may well necessitate a judicial inquiry at the level of the highest court.
Exposing land-grabbers is only the first step towards tackling the issue of development-induced displacement. Those dispossessed of land are not given adequate compensation or resettled, and face great impoverishment and joblessness. An effective strategy for due compensation must address these issues. We have a number of laws that give and protect proprietary rights, including laws promulgated for the establishment of authorities to implement programmes which include the acquisition of private property for development.
But these only provide for payment of cash compensation which is not enough. We need people-centred national resettlement laws to ensure that those whose lands and properties have been acquired for deve- lopment are consulted, compensated for their losses and assisted in rebuilding their assets and livelihoods.