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THE ISSUE OF COMMUNAL PROPERTY

Controversy still exists over the design of the Daral Khwar Hydro Power Project, which has a capacity of generating 36MW of electricity. The feasibility study of the project was conducted in 1998 by the then NWFP government, now Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P). One of the major objections to the design of the project was that it would divert river water away from the area, which was considered the lifeline of the local community. Besides, the important issue of royalty is also attached with this project, which is not only a hurdle to executing it but also a threat to future development work in the area.

During the era of the Wali-e-Swat, there was a formula agreed upon by the elders related to the royalty of shared land that included villages, pastures and forests from Madian to Kalam. As time passed and the population grew, no proper record of the land was maintained, causing issues related to land disputes to aggravate.

For the construction of the Daral Khwar project, a six-kilometre long road track was laid out on the western Shunji Hill of Bahrain. The area acquired for the construction of this road track is the common property of various clans. The government paid a royalty of Rs15-20 million as compensation, but there is a dispute on the amount paid because of the issue of multiple ownership of the area, leaving the project in a lurch.

Conflicts over land ownerships in Swat are very old. They have been there since the time when the erstwhile NWFP, including the Swat valley, was conquered by the Yousafzais of Afghanistan. When the state of Swat came into being, its rulers adopted a very complex method for the allotment and reallotment of land. The village land was divided under various categories, like pastures and forests, with each category having permanent and non-permanent owners with a proportionate share of ownership. This system of ownership continued till 1970, but it created many unnecessary problems. The erstwhile NWFP government formed a commission to settle this land issue. This commission completed settlements of land in Swat (Kohistan) during the period 1981-1986 on the basis of a formula, which was devised by the last Wali-e-Swat in 1950.

The settlement in Swat (1981-1986) was carried out by the then settlement officers. Dr Sultan-i-Rome, in his article “Land Ownership in Swat: Historical and Contemporary Perspective” writes: “They did their best to enter the lands in the names of real legal owners. The present disputes, regarding landownership pending in courts are mostly due to vested interests. The present legal system and framework, the non-implementation of the decisions and the law, and the ineffective administrative system also contribute to land-ownership disputes in the present scenario.”

According to the additional assistant commissioner of Bahrain, “the people whose land was acquired for constructing roads have been compensated by the K-P government. They have been given monetary compensation according to the government’s revenue formula. But there are internal issues, as joint family systems prevail here. There are some who have not yet received the royalty due to the records they presented to the government. Also, whenever royalty is given to a family, one brother may approach the government and claim full royalty.”

This situation is a worrying one for the locals. They know that if this practice continues, they would lose out on the royalty payments besides there being no development work taking place. Owing to a lack of education, the local people are unaware of the complications involved in the ownership of land. However, they believe settlements can takes place through dialogue. Their traditional way to resolve issues is through jirgas. Owing to its reliability and speedy justice, the jirga system’s revival is a must to resolve the area’s land disputes. One can be hopeful that the PTI-led government in K-P will try to solve these issues, which are one of the major reasons of violent conflicts all over Pakistan, and specifically in K-P, with Imran Khan having pledged to revive the jirga system to resolve land disputes.

This article was originally published at: The Express Tribune

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint or stance of SDPI.