ISLAMABAD: The military and the tenants of the Okara Military Farms have reached an agreement, which could lead to an amicable solution of the long-standing dispute, the Okara district administration has told the National Commission on Human Rights (NCHR).

In a report, recently submitted to NCHR, the district administration has claimed that a new agreement has been reached between the two sides, whereby tenant farmers will give the army a share from their crop, rather than making lump sum cash payments.

Under the terms of this new agreement, the mazareen will remain tenants on the land, while a committee would be established to settle any other disputes.


NCHR hopeful matter will be resolved by March


The Okara Military Farms were developed under the British Raj. The land was owned by the British army and after 1947 it automatically stood transferred to the Pakistan Army. For decades, the army used to get share from the produce of the farms, but under the rule of retired Gen Pervez Musharraf, a contract system was introduced and farmers were made to pay rent in cash. It was also decided that the military could ask tenants to vacate the land at any time.

Consequently, the farmers established an Anjuman-i-Mazareen to protect their rights, while the military began demanding that the land be vacated. This led to protests against the military, while cases of terrorism, extortion and theft were frequently registered against those who allegedly refused to vacate the land.

In April 2016, the Anjuman-i-Mazareen held a protest in the federal capital, which received extraordinary coverage with prominent politicians visiting the protest. The issue was also taken up in the Senate, while Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairperson Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari also met representatives of the tenants at Zardari House in Islamabad.

Human Rights Commissioner Chaudhry Mohammad Shafique told Dawn that NCHR took suo motu of the issue notice in May 2016.

“Three members, including myself, visited Okara and after getting all the information, we submitted a report to the Senate and shared it with the federal and provincial governments. We also said that the issue could be addressed amicably,” he said.

“A broader agreement has been made, in which it has been decided that the tenants will pay the batai (share) from their crops instead of cash and in return they will not be displaced from the land. Moreover a committee, which will have the representation of the military, the district administration and the tenants, has been established to settle any other disputes,” he said.

When asked when he expected the issue would be resolved, Mr Shafique said he was hopeful that the matter would be settled by March this year.

According to an official statement, a three-member NCHR bench, headed by retired Justice Ali Nawaz Chohan and consisting of Chaudhry Shafique and minorities member Ishaq Masih Naz, held the hearings.

NCHR constituted a fact-finding committee, which visited the Okara farms and submitted a detailed report.

“In the hearing, the Okara deputy commissioner presented a written report that a peace agreement between military farms management and representatives of the protesting farmers has been made. The said agreement has been signed by the commandant Military Farms Group Okara and the representatives of the tenants. It was witnessed by the district administration and police,” the statement said.

Published in Dawn February 14th, 2017

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