Renala farmers killed, being done out of land

 
By Shoaib Ahmed

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LAHORE: Military farm tenants in Renala Khurd and Depalpur have spoken of their mistreatment at the hands of farm administrators that led to two murders and hundreds of people being severely beaten.

Labour Party secretary, Farooq Tariq, travelled with journalists from Lahore to the farms and heard about the disputes between the poor tenants and the farm administration, consisting of serving and retired army personnel, over wheat crop shares and ownership rights.The team first visited a chak 21-R-B that falls in Renalakhurd and were told by tenants of how Muhammad Bashir died when a serving colonel Muhammad Ali ordered indiscriminate firing on tenants.

Vice President Anjuman-e-mazareen Nadeem Ashraf told journalists the Renala estate consisted of 3600 acres. During British rule, the estate was given to HD Taylor until the end of the lease in 1978. The army then set up check posts and started interfering with people who had been living there for centuries. Two years previously the army issued an order that all tenants should deposit a contract fee of Rs 7,000 per acre. When the tenants contacted the Revenue Department it became clear that the army had no right to the area.

The tenants and army did manage to negotiate an agreement last year whereby the tenants deposited Rs 6.5 million as a year’s contract fee. But the army violated the agreement and started selling the land to their favourites, alleged Mr Ashraf.

The army took over the land in 1991 on Sapurdari and set up checkpoints. Mr Ashraf explained that the basic problem was that people had farmed the land for 100 years and now claim ownership rights. Moreover they don’t want to give a share from their wheat crop to the farm administration. He said General Musharraf also promised that military farmland would be given to poor tenants but nothing had been done about this promise.

Mr Ashraf said that on January 7 this year as people were working in their fields Colonel Muhammad Ali arrived with around 150 soldiers and local toughs and started beating women and men working in the fields. When Muhammad Bashir, a vendor, tried to intervene the colonel ordered his men to open fire, and he was shot down.

One woman, called Nazia, said the army people abused and kicked her and injured her head with an axe. She said when her brother tried to rescue her the soldiers shot him in the legs. Mr Ashraf has asked the farm administration to justify their position on lease agreements.

The SHO of Renala Khurd Police Station, Syed Afzaal Gillani, said the action taken by the serving Colonel Muhammad Ali was totally illegal. “The army has no right to shoot the people,” he said. The farm’s administration did not report to the police station before taking the action against the civilians, he added.

The team also visited the area of Dalmain Ganj where one Tufail Cheema was murdered in another incident involving troops opening fire on civilians on the orders of two retired colonels Iqbal and Nawaz.

Farooq Tariq, secretary general of the Pakistan Labour Party, told the people that military farm land actually belongs to tenants and not to the army. He vowed that tenants would not give a single grain to the farm administration. He said the 68,000 farms in Punjab belong to tenants. He said General Musharraf made false promises to the tenants just to win the
referendum.
 
 

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