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Protests erupt in PoGB after administration leases out governmental land for profit

Representative Image (Photo: ANI)

Hundreds of residents from Skardu in Pakistan-occupied Gilgit Baltistan (PoGB) organized a major protest over the administration’s recent decision to lease several government guest houses and forest land to private business owners from the Punjab Province, a local news outlet from PoGB, Skardu TV reported.

The local administration was leasing 20 governmental rest houses and 16 local forest land green tourism companies.

The decision intended to raise revenues from these governmental properties, a share of which will be used on the local population of PoGB.

The administration also claimed that this decision was taken after considering that these properties were generating losses over maintenance, reported Skardu TV.

However, a local leader claimed that they actively opposed the local administration’s way of taking the decision secretively, without holding any discussions with the locals and other stakeholders of PoGB.

The same leader further said, “Leasing these properties was a wrong decision, as they (administration) had released the leasing tender without any consideration. These lands belong to us and we have taken care of these lands for centuries. And we will not follow any State Rule for this, which is making these decisions of capturing our lands. Because the local administration is nothing but a puppet administration which is elected after a fixed and rigged elections.”

A local lawyer when asked about the legality of these contracts of leasing the land said that however the government has the right to lease all governmental lands, but there is due legal procedure.

“The government, no doubt has the right to lease all governmental lands, but there is due legal procedure. In this case, the government must have done these contracts under an open tender basis. As of now, we know that a huge rest house was leased at an extremely low price of PKR 29000 (USD 104),” he said.

“Additionally, the forest lands were also leased at low prices like PKR 35 per Kannel. And if such contracts had been given on an open tender basis then even the local businessmen would have given much higher competitive prices for the same land,” he added.

The lawyer further stressed that many of these lands don’t even belong to the government and were originally grasslands belonging to the locals of the area.

“Yes, there were contracts between the government and private landowners, but after this, the land was to be given back to the real owners which has not been followed. And if the government does not honour the documented deals then we can go to court. As these lands will not be used for gaining profit by private businessmen and not for the welfare of the local people,” he said.

Earlier, the same matter had been raised in the PoGB assembly by an opposition leader, stating that “we want to safeguard our lands. Today when anyone who holds power here announces that PoGB is suffering major economic losses, they will lease our lands to industrialists or non-native entities so that profit can be generated for 30 years. This would not be tolerated at all.”

He stressed that today, the condition here has gotten worse and the jungles are not safe anymore.

“It is not a matter of 30 years, it is a matter of almost three generations and more. Tell us if PoGB is for sale, and we will return to our homes. Today, the condition has gotten worse and our jungles are not safe anymore,” he said.

“Why did the forest department in PoGB build the questioned guest houses? Was doing business in their domain? These guest houses were raised because of certain needs. And now these guest houses are being sold to industrialists of the Punjab Province and along with this our beautiful jungles are also being sold”, he added.

The opposition leader said that the people in PoGB did not foster and protect that land for a wealthy businessman from Punjab province who would come and establish his business on that land.

“Please spare that land,” he urged, adding, “Another piece of the forest, Whaid Park is being given to business owners, making promises that 50 per cent of the profit will be given to the government. Do you now think that any money made from these profits will reach the general people?”