A notification issued by the district revenue officer, Mansehra, under Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act authorises acquisition of over 14,000 kanals of private land, some 20 kilometres from Balakot city, which was devastated by the October 8 earthquake.
The land acquisition is in line with the federal government’s decision provide alternative housing to families rendered homeless by the quake.
Officials of the District Reconstruction Unit (DRU), Mansehra, a subsidiary of the Earthquake Rehabilitation and Reconstruction Authority (ERRA), said that in addition to 14,000 kanals of private land, over 5,500 kanals of state-owned Jaba sheep farm and Shamilat (community’s land) would also be acquired. They said that the rest of the area being acquired was owned by the provincial government’s line departments.
“In all 21,000 kanals of land would be acquired,” head of DRU Javed Ahmed said.
While the notification for land acquisition has been issued in what appears to be the first visible effort to relocate earthquake survivors, it will take another five years before people would be able to resettle in their new homes.
According to official procedures, after the expiry of the notification after a month, the district revenue officer would issue another notification under Section 6-17 to implement the notice in urgency.
“Following the second notification, the collector [district revenue officer] would invite objections from the local people to fulfill an important procedural requirement before issuing the award [price of the private land],” a district government official said.
Officials said that if things went smoothly, the process would take at least four months before the award was finally issued by the district collector.
However, officials feared that while official procedures were likely to be fulfilled in due course of time, work on the model town project could be delayed because of resentment among the people of Bakriyal, who were opposed to relocating thousands of families from elsehwere to their area.
Land owners, officials said, were also unhappy with the move as they would have to suffer financial losses because of the forced acquisition of land.
Of the 10,000 families to be relocated to Bakriyal, nearly 5,000 families would be shifted from the Balakot area, while the remaining people would be relocated from other areas.
“There will be no forcible relocation to Bakriyal from Balakot as the government does not intend to impose its decision on the earthquake survivors,” said an official.
However, people opting stay behind around Balakot area would not be able to buy land in the new township.
Meanwhile, the government will provide pre-fabricated houses for a three-year period to some 5,000 families from the Balakot city, allowing them to live in them until the completion of the model town project, officials said.