Most land for distribution in southern Punjab
* Poor land records, reluctance of revenue officials make fair distribution difficult
By Khawaja Naseer
LAHORE: The Punjab government has approved the distribution of 112,324 acres of government land to farmers in packages of 12.5 acres each. Of the 18 districts the land is available in, most are in the southern part of the province, a government official told Daily Times on Monday.
The official said Punjab Chief Minister Pervaiz Elahi was likely to launch the scheme by the end of this month, with the first phase in Sargodha district, he said, adding that it could be of real benefit to the rural poor “if implemented properly”.
He said the verification of land records was necessary for proper distribution, but in the Punjab, land data was incomplete and the computerisation of land records was moving slowly. The source said patwaris (revenue officials), fearful of losing their jobs, were unwilling to provide proper records, which has made the task more difficult.
Much also depends on the district scrutiny committees, which are to ensure distribution to deserving people and implement checks to prevent the abuse of the scheme, said the official.
The source said 13,992 acres would be distributed in Bahawalpur district, 3,214 in Bahawalnagar; 16,432 in Rahim Yar Khan, 2,463 in Khaniwal, 19,807 in Dera Ghazi Khan, 10,004 in Rajanpur, 13,775 in Layyah, 185 in Sargodha, 2,236 in Mianwali, 2,259 in Khushab, 101 in Vehari, 9,678 in Jhang, 2,874 in Faislabad, 12,448 in Muzaffargarh, 1,060 in Sheikhupura, 101 in Multan, 500 in Pakpattan and 658 acres in Okara district.
Talking to Daily Times, Punjab Colonies Minister Manazar Ali Ranjha said the government was hopeful the scheme would help develop backward areas. He said the land would be allotted to the local landless farmers and the priority would be given to those who were settled in the area before 1998.
Mr Ranjha said scrutiny committees had been set up in tehsils under the supervision of revenue officers and notable citizens, while Zakat committee chairmen and headmasters were members of the committees, which would recommend allotments.
In districts, the district coordination officer would head the committee. Applications from landless farmers in the 18 districts were opened on January 2004. If the number of valid applicants is more than available land, the minister said land would be allotted through ballots.
A Punjab Board of Revenue official said unjust land distribution had aggravated rural poverty and reduced agricultural growth and similar initiatives in the past had failed to make a significant impact.
The official said most of the government land was in southern Punjab, while there was little available in the central and northern parts of the province.
Under the scheme, land will be allotted to residents of the area where land is available. Sources said if there were a lack of applicants in certain areas, the government would allot that land to a poor person from the nearest area.
While this could benefit some poor tenants, deprived farmers from areas other than southern Punjab would still be at a disadvantage, said the Board of Revenue official, adding that the availability of land and transparency in distribution were pivotal in implementing the programme.