PESHAWAR: The issues arising out of land acquisition in tribal districts are causing prolonged delays in the construction of government office buildings even two years after the region’s merger with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, sources say.

Sources told Dawn that since the funds released for buying land and putting up buildings weren’t being spent, their utilisation by the relevant government departments had slowed down.

They said after the extension of laws and government departments to the seven merged tribal districts, the government required buildings for district complexes to set up offices of all government departments at district level and tehsil complexes at tehsil level.

The sources said the government also required buildings to establish judicial complexes, police stations, prisons and other necessary installations in all tribal districts formerly known as Fata.

They, however, said the departments, which didn’t need land, were utilising funds to build and rehabilitate roads and execute water and irrigation channel projects.

Officials reveal slow utilisation of funds released for the purpose

The sources said allocations for the development of tribal districts under the federal government’s Tribal Decade Strategy and Annual Development Programme totalled Rs83 billion in the current financial year.

They said Rs40 billion had so far released to the seven tribal districts, including Rs24 billion by the federal government under the accelerated implementation programme and Rs16 billion by the KP government under the annual development programme.

The sources said In first half of the financial year, the government departments had utilised only Rs7 billion out of Rs24 billion from the federally released funds and Rs5 billion utilised from Rs16 billion funds released by the KP government.

They said in the previous financial year (2019-20), the federal government had pledged Rs72 billion for the Annual Development Program (ADP) and Accelerated Implementation Program out of which only Rs37 billion were released.

The sources said the KP government had also pledged Rs11 billion in the previous financial year for development schemes but it released Rs1 billion only.

They insisted that though an amount less than the pledged one was released, a big chunk of the released funds were surrendered by the government departments as it couldn’t be utilised due to the poor interest of the departments and several other issues mainly related to land acquisition.

An official in tribal districts told Dawn that land acquisition in the merged districts was a very complicated issue as land settlement had so far not been done in the region excluding Kurram district.

He said though land settlement had been done in settled districts, land acquisition was a cumbersome task for departments.

A tribal district’s deputy commissioner told Dawn that after Fata-KP merger, the administrations of tribal districts learned about issues in land acquisition and went to the provincial government for a way-out.

He said the government officials also feared the registration of corruption cases by the federal and provincial anti-graft bodies as land rates hadn’t been fixed in the region.

The DC said prior to Fata-KP merger, land acquisition process was fixed and instead, land acquisition was made through agreements between the political administrations and landowners.

“Mostly, the political administration used to acquire land for schools, hospitals and other government department by awarding low-grade jobs to landowners,” he said.

The DC said keeping in view issues in land acquisition, the provincial government introduced several amendments to the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, through the KP Assembly in Feb 2020.

He said the government also framed the KP Land Acquisition Rules, 2020, under the amended law and that after an amendment to the law, land acquisition had been accelerated.

The DC said amendment to the law and rules had eased the land acquisition process.

He said under rules, the district administration set up the Qaumi Commission of Elders comprising the maximum 20 members from among notables of the area, where land was proposed to be acquired.

According to the Land Acquisition Rule 20(2), the responsibilities of the Qaumi Commission include assisting the acquiring agency in the determination of ownership of the land and assessment of prices and compensation, resolving any dispute as to the ownership or share of any person in land, acting on behalf of the owners of land and transferring the land in favour of acquiring department free from any encumbrance.

Published in Dawn, January 23rd, 2021

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