KARACHI: In an apparent move to defuse tension between the PPP and the security establishment, the Sindh government on Friday decided ‘in principle’ to allot 9,000 acres of its forest lands to Pakistan Army against its 14-year-old ‘application’ for 35,521 acres which it wants to distribute among the heirs of martyred soldiers and wounded military personnel
The decision to allot 9,000 acres of lands in Garhi Yasin of Shikarpur district to Pakistan Army was taken during a meeting presided over by Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah at the CM House. The meeting was called to discuss this matter exclusively.
The Sindh government’s move came days after PPP leader Senator Farhatullah Babar hinted in a speech in Senate that the rejection of demand for thousands of acres of lands had led to the present situation which had brought the Rangers and the provincial government at loggerheads.
“Sindh Chief Minister Syed Qaim Ali Shah has decided to allot 9,000 acres of forest lands to Pakistan Army for onward distribution among the heirs of martyred and war wounded military personnel,” said a statement issued by the CM House.
“Since the request has been made for the rehabilitation of martyrs’ families and war-wounded military personnel, therefore, this request must be honoured. Chief of Army Staff General Raheel Sharif had personally asked for the allotment of the land.”
The meeting was attended by Sindh Minister for Forest Gianchand Israni, Chief Secretary Siddiq Memon, Principal Secretary to CM Almuddin Bullo, senior member of Sindh Board of Revenue Shoaib Siddiqui, Finance Secretary Sohail Rajput, Forest Secretary Sajaad Abbasi and other officers concerned.
In 2001 the Pakistan Army had formally forwarded an application seeking 35,521 acres of forest lands in Garhi Yasin of Shikarpur district.
After becoming army chief, General Raheel personally pursued the application.
Forest Minister Israni told the meeting that the land in question was located in the area of Golo Daro of Garhi Yasin and added at present only 9,000 acres of lands was available. His ministry had no objection if it was allotted to Pakistan Army, he added.
Chief Secretary Siddiq Memon said that the army sought land for the families of its 500 martyrs, 200 of whom belonged to Sindh.
However, the meeting made it clear that the forest land could only be used for agricultural purposes under the rules.
“Senior member of Sindh Board of Revenue Shoaib Siddiqui told the meeting that under the policy forest land can be allotted only for agricultural purposes,” said the statement.
“The Pakistan Army has already made request to use it for agricultural purposes, therefore, the government was authorised to allot the land.”
Forest Secretary Sajjad Abbasi said that under the policy the lease holder of the land was bound to cultivate forests on 20 per cent of the total holding and 80 per cent could be used for agricultural purposes.
Mr Israni said that under the defined rules, the forest land could only be allotted to an individual or institution for a certain period, which could be extended by the chief minister.
“However, the purpose of its utility cannot be changed and it remains solely for agricultural purpose,” he added.
“The chief secretary would call next meeting to sort out all relevant issues. If one wants to change the purpose of those lands than we need to change the forest rules and for that purpose there is a certain procedure and legislation which requires the provincial assembly’s nod.”
Published in Dawn, June 20th, 2015