LAHORE - Despite clear instructions of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) to both federal and provincial governments not to start any scheme which may be termed pre-poll rigging, Cholistan Development Authority has earmarked 200,000 acres of state lands for allotment to people ‘on political grounds’.

The process of allotting the land is in progress these days. For the implementation of the decision, the Board of Revenue got the Cholistan land allotment policy of 2010 amended on March 7, 2018.

The Punjab government in April 2018 started allotments of state land in Cholistan when the elections are nearing. The Cholistan Development Authority officials confirmed the process would be completed before the elections.

Karim Bakhsh Parhar, a Cholistani, said all the game was political in Cholistan just to oblige the ruling party voters. He said Saud Majeed had assured the voters that they would get state lands.

Muhammad Sadiq Tariq, a resident of Bahawalpur, complained the newly amended allotment policy had paved the way for political people to get the benefit. He said earlier the policy was made only to allot the land to the residents of the desert areas strictly. Now, he said, other people are eligible to get the Cholistani land. “When political people are inducted in scrutiny committee, merit stands nowhere” he said. The same had happened before the last general elections, he alleged.

During the last elections, allotments were also made on political grounds, he said. When the hue and cry of thousands of Cholistanis, whose applications had been rejected, reached the power corridors, the government constituted a complaint redress committee on January 1, 2017. Three separate committees comprising retired judges as chairmen and DCs/ACs as members were constituted for three districts of Bahawalpur division.

He further said the committees scrutinised 6,549 complaints and declared 5,701 applicants eligible. He averred some people approached the regional Anti-Corruption Establishment and courts as well, but the process is still in progress. He appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar and ECP to take notice of the allotments on political grounds.

Official sources in the Board of Revenue, however, confirmed the allotment policy had been amended. They also produced official documents as evidence.

They said the board amended the allotment policy of 2010 and notified the new one. The notification dated March 2018 a copy of which is available said that in exercise of the powers conferred under Section 10 of the Colonisation of Government Lands Act, the Punjab governor amended the 2010 policy.

As per the amendment, the lease shall be granted for an initial period of five years under the terms and conditions to be determined by the government. The allotments will be made by balloting after duly scrutinising the eligibility of candidates.

As per the past policy, only residents of Cholistan registered in voter lists and having national identity cards were eligible. In case the residents of one category were not available, residents of other adjoining chaks, villages or revenue estates where the state land is situated could be eligible.

In the amended policy 2018, in the absence of these categories, the residents of other union councils or the entire tehsil will be eligible.

It is to be recalled that the scrutiny committee comprises political bigwigs to stamp land allotment process. PML-N leader Chaudhry Saad Saud, Malik Muhammad Abbas Bohr, a UC chairman, and others are on the committee.

Moreover, allotment in the Cholistan area is being done reportedly without verification of lumberdars.

When the allotment process was being done, PML-N leader Saud Majeed, CDA colonies staff like patwaris and tehsildar were also present.

When the allotment in the Cholistan villages, including 92, 93, 95 and 96, was underway, CDA officers, former senator Chaudhry Saud Majeed’s nephew, Chaudhry Saad Masud and PML-N’s Merana UC Chairman Malik Abbas Bohr were also present.

A number of people, also candidates for the allotment, told this scribe on the condition of anonymity that inclusion of the ruling party leaders in the scrutiny committee was a big question mark on merit.

When a lumberdar of a village refused to verify candidates for allotment, the UC chairman also did the same. They said the chairman didn’t certify those who were not his voters. A senior officer of the board, on the condition of anonymity, told this newspaper the allotment of the state lands in the area was being done under the Punjab chief minister’s package. Former senator Saud Majeed Ch and MPA Khalid Jajja had claimed that in the first phase 27,000 lots containing 200,000 acres would be allotted to 15,000 applicants.

Punjab government spokesperson Malik Ahmad Khan, Board of Revenue Senior Member Aslam Kamboh and CDA managing director were not available to respond to the queries sent on their cell phones.