Land grabbers in PTI should also be proceeded against  

By: Ashraf Mumtaz      Published: 12:52 PM, 1 Feb, 2021
Land grabbers in PTI should also be proceeded against  

Land grabbing is illegal – just as illegal is the demolition of the legal structures.

The PTI government’s ongoing operation to retrieve the illegally-occupied state lands is laudable. But it should be indiscriminate – against all people involved in this corrupt practice, no matter what their political affiliations. It would have been appreciated by the public at large if it had started from those in the ruling party.  

Prime Minister’s Adviser Shehzad Akbar said at a news conference on Sunday that as a result of the ongoing operation lands worth Rs210billion have been recovered and that 36 of the land grabbers belong to the PML-N, the major opposition party. They include Khwaja Asif (former minister for defence and foreign affairs), former defence minister Khurram Dastgir, veteran leader Javed Hashmi, MNA Javed Lateef, Abid Sher Ali, Senator Chaudhry Tanveer, Afzal Khokhar, Saiful Malook and Daniyal Aziz.

The operation has created an impression as if the PML-N is its sole target, as a result of which the leaders of this party have started alleging that its adherents are being ‘victimized’. Senior party leaders declared unequivocally at a news conference that whenever they got an opportunity they would take to task all those behind the campaign.

While it is regrettable that so many senior leaders of a single party have been found involved in illegal possession of state lands, it would be unfair to say that all those in this party are land grabbers. Likewise, it would be wrong to assume that all those in the ruling party are angels and are not involved in any such activity.

The PTI would have done better by starting the operation from its own people, if any, involved in the corrupt practice. Such a strategy would not have provided the opposition party with a justification to accuse the PTI of victimizing its supporters.

The overconfidence visible from the body language and tone of the PTI leaders indicates that the establishment is fully behind the ruling party and the operation against land grabbers would continue in the foreseeable future. This also means many more may have to face the same situation that the three dozen PML-N leaders had to.

Defence Minister Pervez Khattak has been quoted as saying that even top leaders like Nawaz Sharif, Asif Zardari and Maulana Fazlur Rehman would soon be behind the bars. Observers say that such a step would seriously dent the anti-government movement launched from the PDM’s platform a few months ago. PDM President Maulana Fazlur Rehman’s recent statement that the opposition’s fight is against the government, not the establishment, is very significant. It indicates that the heat of Mian Nawaz Sharif’s anti-establishment speeches is being felt by those challenging the powers that be.  

But the PTI leadership should not forget that its opponents would use this operation in the campaign for next elections. They would project themselves as victims of the ruling party’s vendetta and urge the electorate to vote against the ‘tyrants’.

The demolition of buildings/ structures, no matter who owns them, is a great national loss. Huge amounts spent on their construction stand wasted.

Some mechanism should be worked out to avoid such losses in future. For this purpose, the ruling party should review its current strategy.

All those in illegal occupation of state lands should be given a deadline to surrender them. They should also be given an opportunity to pay an amount equivalent to the value of such assets. After all, state lands have ultimately to be disposed and there is no harm in selling them to those in possession right now.

Properties of those paying their market price should be regularized. Such a strategy would save the money the government has to spend on razing the illegal structures constructed on them. The owners/ buyers would also not have to spend heavy amounts to raise those structures again.

It must be in the government’s knowledge that a large number of buildings, constructed with heavy investments, are lying unutilized because of legal disputes and the court orders about them. This is again a great loss.

It would be in the national interest if the government enacts legislation to neutralize the decades-old court orders and allows the use of ‘dormant structures’.

Categories : Opinion