By Farhatullah Babar
At A press conference on Saturday in Islamabad the Director- General
of the Remount Veterinary and Farms Corps (RVFC) tried to explain
the military's position on Okara farms but in doing so only exposed
wide holes in the army's case.
The DG claimed that the land was "handed over to the army
for defence use" in 1913 but refrained from clearly stating
that the land was actually leased to the military for 20 years
only. It is the property of the Punjab government and was never
handed over permanently to the military. The lease period has
since expired but the land continues to be occupied by the military.
The military has been making bids in the past to have the land
permanently transferred to it but failed. Its strongest bid came
during General Musharraf's military government when the federal
defence secretary, a retired general, wrote on February 1, 2000,
a letter to the Punjab governor, another retired general, pleading
the transfer of land to the military. "The land being the
property of the Punjab government provides an occasion for interference
by the revenue authorities and litigation by tenants", the
letter said and went on to ask "necessary instructions be
issued for permanent transfer of land free of cost in favour of
the ministry of defence".
The Punjab Board of Revenue wrote back, informing the secretary
defence that permanent transfer of land would be against the laid
down policy and therefore was not possible. According to this
policy, the Punjab Board of Revenue reminded the federal defence
secretary, that "in case where the land required to be transferred
is in occupation of the provincial government, the amount payable
by the central government will ordinarily be the market value
of the land and buildings". The letter further said, "The
existing policy framework, it will be appreciated, does not favour
acceding to the request stated in your communication".
How can one accept the position, which the military seems to
have taken, that the land leased in 1913 for 20 years had been
transferred to it permanently? The DG, RVFC, also said that the
military had undertaken development projects for the residents'
welfare and the tenants had now recognized the benefits of the
contract system. It was only a handful of 'miscreants' who were
misguiding them and telling them not to accept the contract system
and to insist on proprietary rights.
"The lessees were being empowered in the implementation
of the development projects in their communities," he said
least concerned about the fact that tenants wanted proprietary
rights and not development works just as the military government
was least concerned that the people of Pakistan want restoration
of the Constitution and not merely the local bodies.
"The uplift schemes will help improve the standard of living
of the lessees", he said. Sounds like saying that the local
government development works will improve the lot of the common
man, so forget about the niceties of the Constitution, the president
in uniform and the LFO.
The casualties among the tenants were dismissed with contempt.
"Only four people had lost their lives and not 17 or 18 as
was misreported in the press", as though four unexplained
deaths of tenants was of no consequence. There was not a word
about the post-mortem reports on those killed, the inquiries held
and any follow-up action. Why this fuss about only four deaths
who after all died in the line of duty to provide fodder for the
ponies and milk and butter to the humans?
And why did the farm management switch over from the lease system
to the sharecropping system? There was a ready answer to that
question: "The net profit from the farm income had reduced
from 41 to 16 million rupees per annum due to lesser share, lack
of interest, lower productivity and malpractices. Trees worth
about 20 million rupees have been cut and sold illicitly by the
lessees". So it was decided to introduce the lease system
to increase the profitability, the general said.
The logic thus advanced is that the military's profitability
must be increased even if it required dispossessing the tenants,
barricading their villages and even shooting them to death. The
military has made its other industrial ventures profitable by
obtaining massive tax concessions. If profitability of farms cannot
be enhanced through similar tax concessions, there is another
way to go about it: dispossess the tenants.
The tenants insist that the neither they nor the sharecropping
system is responsible for the decreasing profitability of the
farms. And the Auditor-General of Pakistan agrees with them.
The special audit report (1999-2000) on land management of Okara
military farms by the Auditor-General has identified nine cases
of mismanagement (read corruption) involving Rs 236 million and
recommended investigation in each case to fix responsibility for
the losses and disciplinary action. But nothing happened.
In the preface to this report the Auditor-General of Pakistan
Manzur Hussain, has lamented: "The findings and recommendations
contained in this special report were communicated to the Principal
Accounting Officer in May 2001. Neither any reply has been received
nor he DAC meeting could be held by the Defence Division within
the prescribed time schedule".
If investigations had been held as asked in the AG's report,
it would have become known as to who had illegally cut and sold
trees worth Rs 20 million - the tenants or the management?.
The DG also spoke about how in February 2001 the Lahore High
Court rejected the tenants' petition challenging the contract
system. He read out what he said was the operative part of the
judgment: "the petitioners are the lessees of the land and
the period of their lease has since run over".
He chose to ignore the most important operative reality, namely
that in case of lease on a crop-sharing basis, even when the lease
period expires no tenant can be ejected. The court has not ruled
that the tenants could be ejected only because their lease period
had expired. The tenants refuse to accept the contract system
as it vests in the management the right to eject them. That is
the core issue.
Cliches like 'terrorism' and 'miscreants' is the last refuge
of the wielders of brute force and state authority. The DG, RVFC,
said that 'miscreants' had injected the fear of eviction into
the minds of the lessees to 'terrorize' them. He wanted the tenants
not to heed these miscreants and should not feel terrorized.
How can the tenants not feel terrorized when a whole nation feels
terrorized by the hijacking of the civil institutions despite
solemn oaths taken to preserve, protect and defend those very
institutions? Who believes in mere promises when solemn oaths
are broken with impunity?
The writer is a member of the Senate.
Daily DAWN Tuesday, June 10, 2020