A report presented before the Public Accounts Committee, relayed on electronic media on July 26, 2017, revealed that more than 4,177 acres of land, out of a total of 1,67,690 belonging to Pakistan Railways, is under illegal encroachment. Giving its further break-up, 540 acres are under the occupation of various government departments whereas 251 acres with other authorities. The rest has been reported to be illegally occupied almost in all the provinces by the private individuals usually known as land-grabbers/mafia. The actual figures may be otherwise.

This state of affairs is very alarming which warrants special attention of the concerned authorities. In this connection, a vigorous campaign also needs to be launched against the land mafia/qabza groups, irrespective of their status or political affiliations. The government should make out a sustainable policy underlying a methodology as how to get the state land back from all these encroachers. If deems appropriate, the provisions of Illegal Dispossession Act, 2005 can be invoked by lodging complaints in the respective courts for their dispossession, in addition to other criminal proceedings as laid down for the said purpose. After having inflicted convictions/punishments upon such offenders by the courts, the lands could be retrieved through a legal process eg under the Court orders.

More importantly, concerted efforts and effective strategy need to be adopted for the preservation of the remaining lands from the reach of unscrupulous elements having ill designs and ulterior motives. It is relevant to mention here that such illegal occupations are quite impossible to happen without the connivance of the lower functionaries under the aegis of their high-ups, with an obvious purpose of indulging in corruption or corrupt purposes to satisfy their ill designs and, in certain cases, under the directions of their political masters. Apart from above, if the competent authorities reach at a conclusion that the criminal action, in terms of their forcible dispossession, or removal of encroachments, including that of the old structures/constructions existing thereon, is not to be initiated, owing to certain ground-realities ie dislodging of poor and shelter-less families or likelihood of erupting any law & order situation, a workable plan/policy duly backed by the legal framework should alternatively be devised to dispose of such pieces of state lands at the market rates or through open auctions, the first right to be given to the actual encroachers. This arrangement will, no doubt, legalise their possession by giving them proprietary rights on one hand and deposit of heavy amounts to the government exchequer on the other.

This tendency of illegal encroachment is not only confined to the Railways lands, but also extends to other state lands owning by the central government or provincial governments, also belonging to Auqaf Department or the Evacuee/Waqf properties. This situation seems to have become the main source of corruption or corrupt practices on part of the Estate/Land Wings. In addition, big pieces of lands, which may include compact blocks, under the possession of various departments not being used for the purposes for which it was given to them should also be considered for resumption and then its physical retrieval in favour of the provincial governments. This fact becomes more important and rather painful when the government itself proceeds to acquire private lands/properties for any public purpose under the Land Acquisition Act, after having made the payments of heavy amounts to the property-owners/occupiers in terms of compensation, despite the fact that certain departments possess centrally located lands over and above their actual requirements.

The habitual offenders in this arena occasionally prefer to indulge in the protracted litigation by instituting frivolous cases/suits, with an intent to procure status-quo or stay orders from the respective courts. Once they succeed to obtain a stay order, they always try to linger on those cases for years on flimsy grounds. In the case of provincial state lands, the collectors of the district or sub-divisions have been vested with certain powers under sections 32/33 of the Colonization of Government Lands Act, 1912 for the ejectment of trespassers and squatters and also taking possession of all crops, trees and structures/buildings, in addition to punishment/imprisonment, to be awarded by the magistrate.

One thing to be noticed with serious concern is that there exists no credible data/record as to the available state lands with the concerned departments at the district or provincial level, with exactitude, and the extent of pieces of lands under unauthorised occupation. With the change of manual systems to that of computerisation of land records, especially in Punjab, this aspect has been neglected altogether. There seems to be marginal gaps in between the available record and the ground situations. A detailed survey - with special reference to urban areas - is, therefore, required to be carried out on war-footing basis so that the state property could be protected for its best utilisation. At a time when the country is passing through an upheaval, there is a real need to either retrieve the state properties for better utilisation in the years to come or to procure maximum monetary benefits in terms of earning heavy money and then its deposits into the government treasury. The cases under litigation must be sorted out with a deep eye towards uncalled for stay orders issued by various courts, without leaving this work at the mercy of lower formation or the state counsels.

Vast tracts of state lands in all the provinces are mostly in the clutches of land-grabbers. Cholistan area, where thousands of acres of state land are under encroachments for illicit cultivation - with unauthorised supply of irrigation water - has also no exception to it. After having a general round of the area falling within Cholistan or its adjoining belts, it can safely be inferred that such grey areas may turn into 'trouble areas' for the competent authorities, as the powerful Qabza Groups/mafia is either supported by some influential persons or backed by the concerned authorities. In this over-all scenario, action so taken against the 'land mafia' must be across the board and exemplary which may prove to be a lesson and an eye-opener for others. It is hoped that the grabbers of state lands will be dealt with an iron hand, without any discrimination, with a view to curbing the menace of illegal encroachments, especially of precious state lands throughout the country.


The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at akrambhattee@gmail.com