Stealing land

Published May 3, 2023

THE land scam in which 100 villagers have been deprived of 125 acres of their ancestral land in Malakwal tehsil of Punjab’s Mandi Bahauddin district without their knowledge is a classic example of the deep nexus between corrupt revenue department officials and powerful, greedy developers. A report in this paper indicates that the ownership of the land in question has been transferred to the grandson of the largest and perhaps the most influential property tycoon through allegedly illegal transactions in the official land record. The fraud has been reported to the anti-corruption agency for investigation. But this is of no consolation to the real owners of the land. Even if they are lucky, it will be many years before they get their land back. Those arrested will get bail while others have already fled the country. One is aware of the pace at which such cases are investigated by the agencies and adjudicated on when one of the parties has political and financial clout. At best, the matter will be decided privately, with the villagers forced to accept small compensation for their land.

This is not the first incident where land has been stolen by powerful developers from unsuspecting owners. In many cases reported from Karachi and elsewhere in the country, the state itself has actively supported illegal land grabs by builders. The government is forcibly evicting poor farmers and small business owners from their lands near Lahore on behalf of developers and builders for a riverfront development project on the banks of the Ravi, in spite of opposition to the scheme from environmentalists and urban planners. The unending avarice for land in Pakistan underscores the massive and quick profits involved in the business, and the sector’s ability to hide illegal cash. Unless the real estate sector is made less lucrative through extensive documentation, the poor will continue to fall prey to such scams and lose their source of livelihood.

Published in Dawn, May 3rd, 2023

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