PRIME Minister Imran Khan, on Friday, had two important engagements – he chaired a meeting of the National Coordinating Committee for Housing, Construction and Development instructing the provinces to complete with help of the Survey of Pakistan department verification of mapping data within two months to get state land rid of illegal occupation and visited the site of over 4,000 under-construction housing units being built under the Naya Pakistan Housing Project.
During the visit, he remarked that it was for the first time that people who could not afford their own houses could now own them.
Land grabbing is a serious problem in the country and with this in view the present government has launched a campaign to address the challenge and in the process state land worth billions of rupees has been recovered in different cities and towns including the federal capital Islamabad.
However, the problem is far from over as both the state as well as individuals/families become victim of this malpractice and illegality and influential land grabbers go scot free in the absence of any authentic record and lacunae in relevant laws.
In this backdrop, the initiative of the government for mapping of the state land by Survey of Pakistan is laudable as it would present an exact picture of the problem and serve as a database of government land as ownership of the government land would be digitized.
Mapping work on 88 per cent of government land has been completed, which has revealed that thousands of acres worth trillions had been encroached upon and that most of the encroachments have been made on forest lands, in addition to those of WAPDA, the National Highway Authority, the Civil Aviation Authority and Pakistan Railways.
However, the most important aspect of the drive would be the retrieval of the state land from the grabbers as such efforts including those by Pakistan Railways and civic agencies could not produce the desired results in the past as authorities concerned became helpless before powerful mafia.
There have also been complaints that the campaign of the government was only focused against the opposition members and land grabbing by those associated with the ruling party and its allies were not touched.
Therefore, apart from an across-the-board campaign to retrieve all state land irrespective of the party affiliation of the grabbers, the Government should also chalk out an effective mechanism to address complaints of private lands as ordinary people cannot afford to seek redressal from courts in view of the litigation cost, corruption and proverbial delay in adjudication of civil suits.
It is also a foregone conclusion that both the state and the private land cannot be grabbed without collusion of officials of relevant civic agencies and revenue departments and therefore, strong administrative and penal actions should also be taken against them.
Patwaris have found another way of fleecing the general public through wrong, deceitful and fake entries during the process of digitization of land record and this common complaint needs to be addressed satisfactorily.
As for the housing project, it is appreciable that the project for construction of 4,400 apartments, the ground-breaking of which took place in April this year, was proceeding well in collaboration with the Capital Development Authority, Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority (NPHDA) and Frontier Works Organisation.
The project, costing 15.3 billion rupees, is being constructed on 70 kanals of land and out of total apartments, 2,000 units have been reserved for low-income groups registered under the Naya Pakistan Housing, 400 for slum dwellers and 2,000 for middle-income and salaried people. The attractive package announced by the Government has encouraged construction activities in different parts of the country.
We may, however, point out that things have changed dramatically ever since the government offered the package and as a result the construction cost has almost doubled.
The prices of iron bars have increased from around Rs. 120,000 per metric ton to Rs. 191,000 per metric ton, an increase of Rs. 71,000 and cement price has also hiked by over Rs. 100 a bag. Prices of other construction material and items have also gone up significantly in recent months.
As incomes of the families are squeezing due to rising inflation, the package announced by the government for the construction sector needs to be revised to ensure genuine relief to all those who want to have a house of their own.