MUZAFFARABAD: The Azad Jammu and Kashmir government called upon Islamabad on Friday to determine “water use charge, net hydel profit and royalty” of hydropower projects in the region on a par with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to ensure a “sense of equality and protection” among Kashmiris.

The demand was made by the AJK cabinet at a meeting presided over by Prime Minister Chaudhry Abdul Majeed.

Appreciating the recent move by the federal government to increase water use charges and net hydel profit of KP’s power projects and also clear arrears in this regard, the cabinet called for a similar treatment for AJK where Mangla, Neelum-Jhelum and some other power projects are either operational or under construction.

The cabinet pointed out that AJK was blessed with abundant natural resources, including water and minerals. Its water is not only making downstream lands fertile but also producing electricity to help Pakistan tread the path of progress and prosperity. “However, payment of marginal royalty/water use charges to the AJK government is making the Kashmiris feel that they are being offered insubstantial share in return for their natural resources,” it regretted.

The cabinet denounced “direct release of developmental funds” by the AJK Council as “pre-polls rigging”. Without naming the PML-N, it called upon Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to immediately intervene and “halt distribution of AJK Council funds directly among political workers to arrest this bad practice”.

According to a shoddily drafted handout, the cabinet approved grant of ownership rights to the occupants of Staff Colony in the heart of Mirpur on the recommendations of a cabinet committee.

The colony was established for low-scale government employees about 50 years ago. However, most of the houses in the colony were allegedly under the possession of unauthorised persons, despite some abortive attempts in the past to dislodge them.

It was during the campaign for a by-election in Mirpur in March last year that Prime Minister Majeed had offered ownership rights to the occupants of Staff Colony, following which a six-member committee was constituted on June 25 to evaluate and examine the offer.

According to Mirpur residents, since the colony’s land was highly precious because of its location, the decision to grant its ownership to the occupants appeared to be murky. Besides, they said, it could also set a bad precedent by encouraging the occupants of all other government colonies to seek similar benefits.

The cabinet also referred the issue of grant of property rights of government land to a sub-committee for approval. It also fixed quota in government jobs for people affected by Mangla dam extension.

The cabinet approved the AJK Text Book Board (Amendment) Ordinance and a programme for basic health services.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2016