THE aggressive manner in which land, houses, shops, religious places and heritage sites (listed and unlisted) have been acquired or destroyed for Lahore’s Orange Line train project, together with complaints of arbitrary grant of compensation, has underscored the need to lay down fair rules for such transactions.
The instrument for acquiring privately owned land is the Land Acquisition Act of 1894, as amended regularly over the years, especially through an ordinance in 1969.
During the colonial period, land could be acquired for a public purpose or to meet the need of companies (business firms, cooperative societies, and societies registered under the law). The practice has continued although acquisition of land for the benefit of companies has become rare. If the government wishes to give land to a company, charity or society, it may do so out of its own land or make a special request to a friendly owner (such as Pakistan Steel that has offered a large piece of land for the CPEC project).
The law lays down a detailed procedure for identification of the need to acquire land for public purposes, the issuance of a preliminary public notification, the filing of objections and their disposal, the issuance of a declaration about the land to be acquired and for orders to the collector to proceed.
The process includes taking measurements of the land as well as the issuance of public notices, and notices to occupants of the land, entitled persons and parties with known interests. In urgent cases, full compensation is deposited with the collector who is directed to take possession of the land 15 days after the issuance of a notice. In other cases, possession is taken at the conclusion of court proceedings.
The landowner is entitled to compensation according to the market value of the land on the date of the preliminary public notification. Compensation can be paid for any damage caused at the time of handing over possession to crop and trees and for severance from other land. Compensation can also be given in case of damage to any other moveable/ immovable property. Reduced earnings, expenses incurred because of change of residence or place of business and transfer expenses, or losses resulting from a fall in profit between the period of declaration of acquisition and taking of possession also can be compensated. Additional compensation can be paid if payment of the latter is delayed.
Problems arise if the procedure for notifications and disposal of objections is not duly respected or the landowner is not satisfied with the amount of compensation fixed for land or for other losses. But the state’s right to acquire land cannot be challenged. Legal experts maintain that the word ‘compensation’ is wrongly used for land acquired under the Land Acquisition Act. What the landowners receive is the price of land. Any other payment depends on the discretion of project authorities, and rehabilitation cannot be demanded by right.
Those affected by foreign-backed projects are compensated quite generously.
How unsatisfactory this process is becomes evident when we take a look at the compensation paid for acquisitions by the government or state agencies (such as Wapda or the National Highway Authority) for projects supported by international organisations such as the World Bank.
While acquiring property for these projects, the authorities pay compensation not only to title holders but also to unauthorised occupants of land other non-entitled people, including encroachers, that is, everybody who is dislocated is compensated.
The package for people affected by the building of high-tension transmission lines and towers, grid stations and feeder lines includes, besides the price of land, compensation for shifting to a
new workplace. The owners of farms over which high-tension transmission lines are stretched also get compensation.
The National Highway Authority also offers a handsome package to the people who are affected by its road-building projects that are backed by the Asian Development Bank. For the Gojra-Shorkot-Khanewal motorway (M-4) project, the land owners get rent at Rs5,000 per month for 20 months, another Rs20,000 per month for three months if livelihood is affected, Rs40,000 for securing a new electricity connection and Rs 10,000 for the transport of household goods.
If a hand pump is shifted to a new location, Rs10,000 is paid. If anybody is asked to abandon his house and he has a piece of land elsewhere the project management will ask a contractor to build a five-room house including a toilet and the boundary wall. The economically vulnerable, that is a person earning Rs20,000 a month can get a livelihood grant of Rs40,000.
Those affected by a World Bank-supported project (the Dasu dam) are even more fortunate. They are paid money for shifting from one place to another, and also for business restoration, and rehabilitation. Those occupying land strips without a legal title to its ownership aer also compensated. The rehabilitation plan includes settlement in new villages that will have modern facilities.
Thus, those who are dislocated because of development work, mainly related to infrastructure, are divided into two categories. Those affected by foreign-backed projects are compensated quite generously for both tangible and intangible losses, and compensation is paid to non-entitled affectees too. Those dislocated due to government projects get much less and only title holders benefit. Thus, those affected by the Orange Line train project who did not have title deeds were thrown out of their homes without any compensation.
No elaborate argument is required to prove that dual standards of this kind are unacceptable. The gap between the recipients of proper compensation and these who get little or nothing amounts to discrimination. The whole system is loaded against the poor whose capacity to overcome the effect of dislocation and loss of livelihood is minimal. The state must do whatever is necessary to guarantee equitable compensation to all families that are affected by any kind of development work.
Published in Dawn, June 1st, 2017