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Unholy nexus

January 13, 2013

Dismayed by the manipulation of LDA, patwaris and builders, people prefer to invest in DHA projects, Khalid Hasnain reports

In the last 35 years or so, state as well as private land has been unlawfully sold or occupied in China Scheme — Gujjarpura, Tajpura, Johar Town, Gulshan-i-Ravi, Sabzazar, Faisal Town, Model Town (Ext), Allama Iqbal Town and Mustafa Town — as well as other residential housing schemes developed by the Lahore Development Authority (LDA).

“Influential groups of land grabbers have illegally occupied a number of residential plots by tampering with relevant records in connivance with LDA and revenue officials,” says an LDA official, requesting anonymity.

Lahore has three main types of residential schemes. Those developed by the LDA, known as towns or schemes. Cooperative housing develops societies while housing schemes and parks are developed privately by builders. As per law, all schemes require mandatory approval by respective town municipal administrations, the LDA, and the environment and revenue departments.

According to an investigation, an unholy nexus between officials of the LDA, revenue or cooperative departments along with influential individuals and groups, operates as a mafia in a majority of schemes.

An official says that the fraud begins at the time of acquiring land from private landowners under the Land Acquisition Act for officially announced schemes. “The Khasra or land record numbers are obtained in connivance with LDA land record officials or patwaris of the revenue department. Records of plot numbers in the original plan, drawings, or maps or files are tampered with, after which the land is excluded from the scheme and transferred in the name of mafia members who hold possession for some time. Finally, these plots are sold to people looking for investment or for building houses,” the official explained.

He said that while tampering with land records, the size of the land or plot is altered by converting 7 into 1, 4 into 5 or 9, 1 to 10 or 21 or 12, 18 to 10 and 8 to 48 or 18 as and how it works for them.

He said that it is easier to grab plots of people/investors who are mostly abroad or have no time to visit or build a boundary wall around their property. “They first possess these plots unlawfully for some time to observe a reaction from the owners or neighbours. If there is a reaction or litigation, they proceed no further. Otherwise, they retain their unlawful possession and tamper with records in the revenue department to take over ownership,” he said.

The official quoted schemes in Sabzazar and Johar Town, Mauza Niaz Baig, Ajoodhiapur, Chak Muzang, Sultanabad, Gujjarpura, Kot Khwaja Saeed, Baghbanpura, Bhogiwal, Dholanwal and some other localities as notorious for land grabbing. “In Johar Town, Phase II, around 150 plots allocated to widows were grabbed and sold by the mafia,” he said.

He said that plots in cooperative societies were also grabbed in the same fashion. In several cases, the management committee or office bearers of the society did not transfer public utility sites/plots (the properties allocated for roads, graveyards, schools and hospitals, etc.) in the name of LDA or the concerned departments. Instead, this land was converted into small plots and sold to people unlawfully. Likewise, the official said, private developers managed to avoid the transfer of these plots in the name of departments and sold them off to people.

Ahad Cheema, director general of the LDA, said the administration had sacked dozens of corrupt officials. He said that a special wing/directorate monitors and scrutinises these issues which has reduced land grabbing to some extent.

Disgruntled by land grabbing, illegal transfer or the processing of plots by individuals and groups, people prefer to invest in Defence Housing Authority (DHA) projects which has developed a number of residential schemes on land measuring thousands of acres.

At present, Lahore’s DHA has 11 residential phases on Airport road, Baidian Road and Walton Road. Besides these, it also owns DHA-Rehbar Sector on Ferozepur Road and EME-Sector on Link Canal Road (Multan Road, near Thokar Niaz Baig). The DHA, administered by the army, is liable to get approval for any residential schemes from the cantonment board. “Similarly, the land acquisition process for developing towns/schemes under the aegis of DHA is also made through prior approval of the cantonment board,” said a DHA official.

He claimed that DHA was an institution where no one had doubts about the record and history of the land acquisition, compensation paid to land owners, plots’ sale/purchase and transfer, etc. “When the plot is being sold, it is mandatory for both parties to visit our office in order to have their pictures, signatures and thumb impressions on transfer deeds through a transparent computerised system,” he explained. The DHA is governed by senior in-service military officials who are replaced serving a three-year term according to its bylaws.