Almost 100 locals in Battagram's Gajborai area on Tuesday stormed the site of a China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) project, forcing Chinese workers to halt construction, in protest over non-payment of compensation for their land.
Nearly 1,000 locals have been affected by the construction of a tunnel falling under the CPEC scheme that runs for 60 kilometres from Kas Bridge to Thakoot Bridge.
Locals fear that as work on the tunnel progresses, their houses will be demolished and land seized, as the government has already seized the land of some locals without making compensatory payment, members of a local action committee told Dawn.
The 35-member CPEC Affectees Action Committee headed by Haji Anwar Baig, Gul Muhammad Khan, Muhammad Hanif and Altaf Hussain led the protest, which was staged after locals warned they would disrupt work on the multi-billion dollar initiative until they were paid a competitive rate as compensation for their property.
District administration had earlier asked locals to vacate their lands and houses without consultation. Locals also claim the government did not notify them before work started on the project.
"The government has forced us to come out to claim our rights. The government started work which is due to be completed 2018 but has not spoken to [us] regarding land payments," Anwar Baig of the action committee told Dawn.
The landowners insist that the area from Kas Bridge to Thakoot Bridge is commercial property and the government should, therefore, provide landowners a commercial rate for their property as was the case in Abbottabad, Haripur and Mansehra.
In Abottabad and Haripur, the government has started distribution of compensatory payment. In Mansehra, affectees have been assured that their payment will be made to them before the completion of the project, a local journalist told Dawn.
Battagram residents told Dawn that they have had several meetings with National Highway Authority district administration regarding the seizure of their lands and non-payment of dues but the authority had only made "false commitments".
"We are tired of the false assurances of the government and NHA authorities," Baig said. "They forced us to make them stop the work on the project, so we made them stop work on it today."
The construction of the tunnel has also created difficulties for locals who use chairlifts to travel, the action committee said.
There are 15 chairlifts in Battagram, a local journalist told Dawn. After construction on the project is complete, locals will be able to use the tunnel route. In the meantime, however, their mode of transport will be affected.
The affectees said they would not allow work to continue on the CPEC project until compensatory measures are taken.
Deputy Commissioner Sardar Asad Haroon, when contacted, told Dawn that he is aware of peoples' concerns, adding that he had spoken to the NHA to expedite the issue as per law.
He added that he had also spoken to Hazara Commissioner Arbab Akbar Hayat in this regard.
Asad added that district administration would try to convince protesters to allow work on the project to resume.
Update: work resumes after successful negotiations
The negotiations between the affected locals and district administration proved to be successful after DC Haroon assured the landowners that their charter of demands would be met after Eidul Fitr.
The locals allowed Chinese workers to resume construction of the project after the DC assured them they would be dealt in the same manner as people from other areas affected by CPEC projects were dealt by their respective administrations.
A meeting to hold negotiations was attended by DC Battagram, district nazim Attaur Rehman, NHA officials, LG representatives and the affectees.