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LAHORE: The compensation paid or being offered by the government to the hoteliers in return for acquiring their land, cost of built-up/covered areas and other business losses for 4,500MW Diamer-Bhasha hydropower project has created unrest among them and those engaged in related businesses in Chilas as they consider the amount inadequate.

The situation may further delay the land acquisition for the project as the hotel owners are not ready to leave their business premises till receipt of handsome compensation and the local tribes in Chilas have separately moved courts to order the government pay them the compensation cost for being holders of the entire Chilas, capital of district Diamer.

“The hotels affected by the Diamer-Bhasha dam, which are pivotal to tourism and jobs in the northern areas, are being forced to leave their livelihood without being handed out even the promised amount of compensation,” deplores Zeshan Aslam, managing director of a chain of hotels in northern areas, including one at Chilas.

The local authorities in Chilas and Water and Power Development Authority (Wapda); however, reject the impression, stating that compensation is being paid without any discrimination under the land acquisition act.

“The compensation package offered to the all the affected, including the hotel owners, is the best one announced by a committee,” claims Chilas Assistant Commissioner Zahoor Ali.

Mr Aslam, on the other hand, says the first evaluation of the hotels was done in February 2016 which was rejected by hotels and they had called for reassessment.

“The government agreed to reassess the compensation package and increased it by just 7pc, ignoring the land cost that escalated by 30pc,”

Recently, Section 9 of the land acquisition act was applied to all the hotels in Chilas, which meant that if the property owners had any objections to the offered compensation, they might move courts. However, we avoided it keeping in view the slow pace of the provision of justice in the country,” Mr Aslam explains.

The owners of 14 hotels were never consulted regarding assessment of the land, structure cost and business loss by revenue officials and Wapda.

“After we inquired the officials, we came to know that the compensation is being made under two categories–one for the land and trees to be paid by the Bhasha Dam Committee and the other for building constructed area and fixtures to be given by Wapda. Though a breakdown of the land evaluation was given by the committee but no detail about construction costs and fixtures was shared with us by Wapda,” Aslam claims.

He adds that the committee divided the hotels land into three categories.

“Under the category-1, the land within 200 feet of the Karakoram Highway (KKH) was declared as commercial, under category-2, the land within 200 feet of the commercially declared chunk was declared as agriculture and the third layer of the land situated within 200 feet or above the distance from the agriculture land was termed as barren.”

Under these unjustified categories, the owners were asked to receive compensation at the rate of 100pc (for commercial), 50pc of the total value of the commercial property (for agriculture) and 20pc of the total value of the agriculture land (for barren land), he adds.

Because of this classification, the hotels, including Panorama, Usman, Grace, Al-Kashmir, Shimla Hill, Pakistan, Al-Najam and Shangrila fell either in first two or the all three categories—commercial, agriculture and barren land.

“This resulted into a loss of millions of rupees to the hoteliers as their commercial land was evaluated as agricultural or barren land despite the fact it was exclusively used for commercial purposes. The rates offered were also extremely low compared to the land rates in the surrounding cities like Gilgit and Hunza. Chilas was given the lowest rate on the KKH,” Zeshan Aslam laments.

An official of the Gilgit-Baltistan government, who wants to remain anonymous, says a proposal to consider the entire hotels’ land as commercial was given to the committee.

“But the committee rejected this proposal, claiming that the compensation being given to the affectees was already on higher side.”

Another hotel owner, requesting anonymity, says the hotels’ structures in Chilas were evaluated unjustifiably according to cost of Wapda buildings which have basic construction and amenities.

“These rates are not even enough for residential buildings. The same rate was given for all hotels whether it’s a truck driver hotel or a four star hotel,” he explains.

He says the hoteliers wrote a letter in December 2015 to all the concerned, including GM Diamer-Bhasha dam, the chief minister, chief secretary and Wapda chairman but to no avail. “We urge the government to review the compensation package by considering the all hotels’ land as commercial. We should also be given a handsome cost for relocating our businesses,” he demands.

Talking to Dawn, the Chilas AC says a majority of the affectees are satisfied with the compensation under an agreement of 2010.

“None of the hoteliers has contacted. We have completed all the process according to the law and in the light of the decisions of the committee consisting of three ministers, Gilgit-Baltistan chief secretary, affectees’ representatives and other important officials,” he adds.

A senior Wapda official, who is not supposed to speak to the media, says that best ever rates were offered to the affectees. “We are also developing model colonies where we will give developed one-kanal land to each affectee,” he adds

“We have even seen all the facilities available in these hotels. And finally we calculated the structure cost according to actual value,” he concludes.

Published in Dawn, May 2nd, 2017