KARACHI: The Alliance for Climate Justice and Clean Energy (ACJCE) said on Tuesday that in the absence of a proper land acquisition, or resettlement, policy the people of Thar were being forced to leave their ancestral homes to make way for coal power plants in the desert region.

Speaking at an online press conference held to highlight the neglected issue of ‘Irregularities in land acquisition and resettlement in Thar’, Azhar Lashari said that there was little information, and much less understanding, outside of Tharparkar about how the process of land acquisition was changing lives of the indigenous community for the worse.

‘Thar will lose its natural beauty as a result of coal power plants’

Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum chairman Mohammad Ali Shah said that private companies had already taken land worth millions of rupees from the indigenous people of Thar and it looked like this was going to continue as the power plants come up there.

‘Tharis paid peanuts in exchange of homes’

“All over the world when there is a project coming up in the name of progress and prosperity in a country, there are also policies put in place for the indigenous people of that area in case they have to be moved,” he said, adding: “But here there was no land acquisition or resettlement policy as such. The people were paid peanuts in exchange for their homes and patch of land.”

He continued: “Not all people in Thar own land. There are also peasants who used to lease land for farming purposes or for grazing livestock but after they were moved, they are without land for doing both these things. Thus they have lost their means of livelihood.

“If the natives raise their voice regarding their resettlement issues, they face police brutality,” he said, while demanding the government extend support to these people.

He also pointed out that Thar would lose its natural beauty as a result of the coal power plants.

Advocate Syed Ghazanfar of the Alternate Law Collective said that they offer advice to the indigenous people of Thar, who have been displaced due to the coal power plants.

He also explained the normal process through which the government should acquire land for projects.

“Whenever there is a big project coming up for the good of the country, the people living in that area are taken into confidence and it is explained to them why their land is needed. But there was no information disclosure mechanism here,” he said.

Colonial-era law being used to ‘snatch’ lands

“Also,” he said, “Normally, the people whose homes or lands are falling within the project site are offered more money than their assets are actually worth. But here they were only given little compensation for their homes and not for their agriculture or grazing lands,” he said.

“This was possible as their land has been and is being taken from them by private companies using the emergency land provision law. It was a law that was used by the ruling British during the Raj to snatch people’s land from them. The act is like a violation of human rights taking away people’s right to own land,” he said.

“They are given minimum compensation and made to roam around like displaced persons,” he added.

Jan Mohammad Halepoto from the affected community in Tharparkar said that there was an FIR lodged against him and he was also thrown into the lock-up for refusing to vacate his land, and for questioning the taking away of his land.

“I was among the ones who refused to readily bow to the demands of the private companies,” he said.

“They are trying every trick in the book to have their way. They are also creating differences among different communities in order to use the divide and rule formula to do whatever they can to get our land. We are also facing cases filed against us by the land revenue department,” he said.

“We have got nothing although we were promised better times and jobs as a result of the construction of the power plants. Actually, we are worse than what we were before this so-called progress happened and we feel cheated,” he concluded.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2020

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