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Land Attached To Two Sikh Shrines: Evacuee Board Favours DHA Against Rules

Vikram singh

Feb 24, 2005
LAHORE, Oct 3: The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has sold to Defence Housing Authority (DHA) 544 kanals of agriculture land attached to two Sikh shrines -- Samadh Bhai Maan Singh and Gurdwara Deh -- in Lidhar, a village in Lahore Cantonment, in violation of ETPB’s own scheme for management of evacuee trust agriculture land.

The trust has sold its land against the promise that it will in return get free, developed residential plots measuring one-fourth of the land the authority has bought from it. In official parlance, such plots are known as “exempted plots”.

The law governing the functioning of the trust prevents it from selling any land attached to a place of worship and religious shrines unless it is determined as “uneconomic”. ETPB Additional Secretary (Shrines) Siddique Khurram concedes this much but speculates that the trust’s board might have decided to “close the deal because the said samadh and gurdwara to which the land is attached no longer existed”.

“The trust had initially also offered the land attached to Gurdwara Bebe Nanki (established at the birthplace of Guru Nanak’s sister) at Dera Chahal village but withdrew it after the Sikh community in India and North America strongly protested the deal,” he admits.

Khurram informed Dawn that the trust had actually sold a total area of 855 kanals of agriculture land to DHA. But he did not say as to why the conveyance deed shows sale of only 544 kanals. According to him, the 311 kanal of land whose sale is not mentioned in the deed available with Dawn is situated in Mota Singhwala village.

The deal has also resulted in the eviction of tenants of the land sold. But the trust officials refuse to give the number of people or families affected by the deal. “I do not know the exact number of the affected tenants. You may ask this question of the trust’s chairman,” ETPB Administrator (Eastern Zone) Saeed Anwar told this reporter.

ETPB Secretary (lands & properties) Saleem Masih, who had signed the sale deed with DHA, refused to answer questions regarding the details of the deal and advised this reporter to contact the chairman. “If the chairman orders me to give you the details, I will do so,” he said.

The conveyance deed available with this reporter shows the land’s sale price to be more than Rs655 million. But the operative part of the deed says the said amount is not the actual value of the land paid to the trust and has been given as such only for the purpose of registration (of the deed).

The actual consideration for the sale according to the deed is 25 per cent exemption in the shape of residential plots. The vague fixation of the consideration makes the deal, which sells the land to DHA with all rights possessed by the trust, even shadier, say sources in the federal ministry of minorities.The sources said DHA had initially agreed to allocate 33 per cent exempted residential plots of one kanal each in addition to commercial plots in return for the trust’s land. Later on, they said, the authority had revised its offer and reduced the “consideration” for the trust land to 25 per cent exempted plots “on the grounds that it had to get the possession of the land from tenants on its own and compensate them against their dispossession”.

Under the Evacuee Trust Property Board Management and Disposal Act, 1975, the trust’s function is to undertake development of agriculture land for increasing its productivity and enhancing the commercial value of its property. Instead of developing the land for increasing the productivity of the land, the board has sold it to DHA in a deal that changed the very nature of the agriculture land into residential plots, the sources argue. The trust is not vested with such power, they add.

A senior ministry official says the Scheme for the Lease of Evacuee Trust Agricultural Land, 1975, prohibits the sale of trust agricultural land unless it has been determined as uneconomic. “Even in that case, according to clause 18(d) of the Scheme if at all such land is to be sold as uneconomic land, it can only be sold through open auction or by calling tenders by wide publicity through the mass media. The reserved price of the land is to be fixed according to the prevailing market rates before the auction is undertaken. Land to be disposed of by such sale through public auction is to be transferred to highest bidder provided right of first refusal is given to the occupant of the property to purchase it at the time of auction. None of these conditions have been met by the board before closing the deal with DHA, which was finalised through negotiations,” he claims.

“The present conveyance deed having been entered into by negotiation is clearly against to the said scheme, which is to be followed by the board in all such cases.”

He claims that the trust had concealed the facts about the disposal of the agriculture land attached to Sikh shrines from the ministry in order to obtain its approval of the deal. “The nature of the land involved in the sale is Waqf land attached to a religious shrine of the Sikh community. This land was initially attached to the shrine with the object that the produce obtained by cultivation of this land was spent on the maintenance of the religious shrine. The development of agricultural activity was also envisaged in such dedication. The conversion of such land into residential plots thus distorted very purpose of such dedication,” the official insists.

Though the conveyance deed claims that the tenants of the land were compensated before securing possession of the land by DHA, no amount of such compensation and the measure according to which it was determined has been clarified in the document.

Under the scheme, the assistant/deputy administrator is competent to cancel the deed if the lessee has violated any terms and conditions of the lease or the land is required for any public purpose provided the lessee has been provided reasonable opportunity of being heard. Under clause 32 of the scheme a lessee in case of cancellation of the deed is entitled to get compensation assessed by the Local Revenue Authority and the payment is to be made according to such assessment in which the land is resumed. It is not clear whether any such exercise ever took place.

The critics of the sale say in a normal sale the vendor has to part with possession of the land on receipt of consideration of the sale. It is not clear how after the execution of this deal the board will ever be able to take possession of the exempted plots. The board has also not prepared any scheme for the allotment of the exempted plots it would obtain.

Trust chairman Asif Hashmi, who claims to have made the deal in the best interest of the ETPB, denies that the land sold to DHA is attached to any Sikh shrine. “We removed the land attached to Gurdwara Bebe Nanki immediately from the deal after we realised our mistake,” he says.

He insists that the law governing the functioning of the trust is “silent” on the issue of what he calls “transfer of its agriculture land for residential plots”. “In such matters where law does not offer any clear-cut guidelines, the ETPB board is competent to take a decision. We also transferred the land to DHA only after the board gave its approval of the deal,” he says. He says the one former chairman of the trust, Lt Gen Javed Nasir, had actually sold part of the trust land while another chairman, Lt Gen Zulfiqar Ali Khan, had transferred part of land to DHA for residential plots.

Hashmi argues that he had done the best possible deal with DHA and obtained not only 25 per cent exempted residential plots but also 10 commercial plots. “This is unprecedented,” he says and adds that the trust was not getting even a single penny in revenue from the tenets, which was one of the factors that prompted the ETPB board to accept the DHA offer.

He says he plans to construct a residential complex of independent houses. “You can well imagine how much rental revenue those houses will fetch for the trust,” he says.

DAWN.COM | National | Land attached to two Sikh shrines: Evacuee board favours DHA against rules
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