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Land issues need administration’s attention

September 15, 2013

ISLAMABAD, Sept 14: Intizar Khan and Irfanullah, private guards on a land in Lohi Bher Awan, woke up on March 17, 2013 to find themselves in the midst of armed persons who came there after scaling the boundary wall of the plot.

They belonged to a land mafia and were almost 20 in number. They first beat up the guards, and then informed them that the land was theirs.

In response, the land owner filed an application with a police station, and in a bid to hold negotiations with the land grabbers, he reached the plot with his supporters.

But the negotiations turned into heated arguments and ended with both parties firing at each other.

The incident led to the closure of Islamabad Expressway (the road linking the capital with Rawalpindi) for four hours. Six persons were kidnapped and three were injured in the stand-off.

A case was registered with Koral police station which the police officials said was a dispute over the ownership of 145 kanals of land. Five months later, the police have not even arrested a single suspect named in the FIR.

Koral Police SHO Raja Tahir Hussain, while talking to Dawn, said that police and CIA team were still investigating the incident.

Another officer from the same police station told Dawn, on the condition of anonymity, that though the incident took place in Islamabad, the suspects got interim bail from Lahore High Court. Once that bail expired, they got bail from the Sindh High Court and then the Peshawar High Court.

“This shows the influence and resources of the land mafia. They can approach courts across the country for bail but the police are incapable of following them even within the city,” he said.

“On September 4, the anti-terrorism court rejected their bail application but they cannot be touched,” he conceded.

Shortage of land and the growing demand for it as Islamabad expands has led to an equally rapid increase in the number of disputes – legal and violent – over property.

In fact, those involved in the business of acquiring land have now switched to forcibly occupying the land owned by housing societies and the Capital Development Authority (CDA) because the chances of buying land legally and cheaply are now slim.

And the police, under the pressure of the rich and powerful, cannot act as neutral authority in such cases.

A senior officer in CDA told Dawn: “The Capital Territory is spread over an area of 906 square kilometres. The population of the area was 100,000 in 1951 (before the capital was established), which reached 1.01 million in 1999 (when a census was held), and now experts estimate that the population has crossed 1.8 million. However the area of the city has remained more or less the same.”

He explained that though the CDA has developed sectors from E to I in 1992, the federal government also allowed private/cooperative housing societies to develop housing schemes in Zone II and V.

New Islamabad Airport, Tarnol and Fatehjang road are in Zone II and Rawat, Sihala and area near Benazir International Airport are in Zone V, he added.

As a result, since then housing societies have flourished in Islamabad and brought with them a horde of land disputes that have jammed up the courts as well as led to innumerable incidents of violence and fraud in the capital over property.

An official of district court, requesting not to be named, said “Over 30,000 cases are under trial in different courts at the district level. Of these, 40 per cent (12,000) cases are regarding land disputes.”

According to a police officer, over 10,000 cases are registered regarding dispute over land, in police stations of Islamabad and cases were referred to courts.

Mohammad Naeem, the owner of Friends Consultant, a real estate agency, said that in the 90s and early 2000s, housing societies purchased land from the original residents of this area on the outskirts of Islamabad – farmers - and started establishing housing societies.

“Back then too there were property disputes but as the farmers were poorer and weaker than the owners of housing societies, they did not stand up against the housing societies,” he said.

“But now powerful land owners and housing societies are clashing with each other. In many cases, both sides are armed with security guards and weapons and enjoy links to government officials and political personalities,” he said.

A police officer on condition of anonymity said that in Phulgiran (near Bhara Kahu) two groups exchanged fire for hours in November 2012 – once again because of a land dispute.

CDA and police officials can tell countless tales of the power of those who now dominate the purchase and sale of land in the capital.

“Back in 2010 a Patwari (official of revenue department) tried to stop one such land group from encroaching government land. He was kidnapped and tortured,” said the CDA official.

The officials claimed that the Patwari died of a heart attack shortly after being released.

Though this is simply the case of just a middle level government employee, the government’s helplessness can be gauged from the following incident.

CDA land in Sri Saral (near sector D-12 in the north western part of Islamabad) has been encroached by around seven housing societies.

CDA and ICT officials are trying to mark the land there in order to then free the government owned land from encroachment but they are under tremendous pressure.

An officer of the CDA on condition of anonymity said that no concrete action has been taken so far against the private developers that have encroached on CDA land in Sri Saral but so far action could not be taken against the encroachers – only a case has been filed in Golra police station.

Even if the housing societies, which claim that the land is legally and rightfully theirs, they are still guilty of wrongdoing.

“The developers working there have not bothered to get no objection certificates from CDA,” he said.

Director Public Relations CDA Aasia Gul told Dawn that the land mafia has encroached CDA land in Sri Saral and that the authority was trying to get it back.

“We have also signed a memorandum of understanding with the Urban Unit Punjab (UUP) which will provide CDA the latest technical assistance for satellite survey for acquisition of land and it will also provide us five to ten years old images of the federal capital so we can identify CDA land and those who lost their land to encroachers and those who are pretending to own land that belongs to some one else,” she said.

But in the meantime, the list of fraud and violence over property disputes continues to grow.

In another case, Falcon Town (FT), a housing project which was started in 2006, cost its plot buyers all their savings as FT’s administrators claimed that another housing society took over all of the land purchased for FT. The administrator has been missing since then as well and those who bought plots in FT have no one to turn to.

According to the police, on February 3, 2010, Member Law and Justice Commission and Advocate General (KP) Sardar Mohammad Khan was murdered in sector G-11/2 over a dispute of land.