Farmers say MNA pushing them off their land
By Shahnawaz Khan
LAHORE: Hundreds of small farmers in Sadiqabad tehsil, Rahim Yar Khan, are struggling to retain land they purchased from an influential local family decades ago.
The farmers allege that Rais Munir Ahmed, a member of the National Assembly, is trying to reclaim land his family sold to them 30 years ago and for which they have transfer letters from the Revenue Department.
The farmers are mostly from Wazir Ahmedabad and Noor Ahmedabad, two mozas around 27 kilometres from Sadiqabad. There are also some from Bhong, Shabbir Ahmadabad and Garhi Daho, areas where the Rais family owns thousands of acres. Rais Ghazi, who built the beautiful Al-Ghazi Masjid in Bhong, was the Sardar of the area and local tribes.
By virtue of the agriculture reforms of Ayub Khan in the 1960s and Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s, almost 2,000 acres of agriculture land of Rais Ghazi was transferred to tenants.
Rais Ghazi, who died in 1975, had three wives. From the first wife he had two sons, Rais Shabbir Ahmad and Rais Wazir Ahmad. After the death of Rais Ghazi, his son Shabbir was declared Sardar of the tribes, but he placed his younger brother Wazir in charge of agriculture matters.
Foreseeing more agriculture reforms in 1974-75, the brothers sold some of their land to the poor people of four mozas. Around 1,000 acres were sold to some 300 people at the rate of Rs 10,000 per acre. They were given receipts of payment by Haji Abdul Waheed Abbasi, the Rais family’s manager for agriculture matters. The buyers then started cultivating their plots and built houses on them.
However, the land was not officially transferred until 1999, when Shabbir and Wazir started the process of transferring the land to the people they had sold it to in 1974-75. The transfer continued until 2001.
Several farmers from the Indher tribes of mozas Bhong and Shabbir Ahmadabad, from the Kosh tribes of Wazirabad, and from the Chandia and Malik tribes of Noor Ahmadabad, showed photocopies of transfer letters for the land issued by the Revenue Department.
On August 28, 2000 Rais Shabbir and Rais Wazir divided their land and orchards, in the presence of their managers Abdul Hamid Rabbani and Muhammad Sharif, amongst their families.
However, politics was to come between the families. For the 2002 general elections, Rais Wazir got a Pakistan Muslim League-Qaid-e-Azam (PML-QA) ticket for the National Assembly seat at NA-197, but lost to Rais Shabbir’s son, Rais Munir Ahmad, contesting as a Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) candidate.
However, Rais Munir was to join the government as part of the breakaway PPP Patriots faction and become the state minister for Tourism, Culture, Sports and Minority Affairs.
Then on July 20, 2004, reports appeared in the press of farmers protesting against Rais Munir, claiming he was using his influence to try and occupy their lands. The farmers said there had been conflict between Rais Munir and his uncle Rais Wazir since the elections.
Rais Munir filed a petition in the court of the deputy district officer (DDO) for revenue in Sadiqabad on behalf of him and his family claiming that the farmers were occupying the land illegally and they should be forced out. He also tried to persuade the DDO to cancel the transfer of agriculture land, the farmers alleged.
However, it appeared that even Rais Munir’s family members, the former owners of the land, disagreed with him. The DDO contacted relatives of Rais Munir and they presented affidavits disowning the special power of attorney the MNA claimed he had from them. They also said they did not wish to challenge the transfer of the lands.
The former owners, including a sister of Rais Munir, also deposed before the court that they had not filed petitions in this respect and so these should be cancelled.
The farmers also alleged that Rais Munir was using his political influence to stop the working of a hospital, the Al-Ghazi Trust Hospital, the only one for thousands of people in the area. Rais Munir denied the charge.
The farmers said that Rais Munir had got false cases registered against them, Rais Wazir and other people of Sadiqabad tehsil. After the cases were registered, they said around 150 policemen raided 15 villages in the four mozas to arrest and harass farmers. They claimed that all the cases had been proved false when police in Lahore investigated them.
They said that officials of Bhong police station often harassed them at the behest of Rais Munir and took farmers to the police station. They said it took expensive bribes to get these detained farmers released.
The farmers appealed to the president. They said Rais Munir Ahmad was harassing them because they voted for his uncle Rais Wazir in the elections.
Rais Munir was unavailable for comment. Pir Muhammad Shah, an assistant superintendent of police (ASP) in Sadiqabad, and Afzal Gill, the Bhong police station house officer (SHO), were not available for comment either. Tariq Hanif Joya, the district police officer (DPO) of Rahimyar Khan, is in Saudi Arabia for Umra.