LAHORE -  As many as 7,050 acres of agricultural land, 4,533 houses and 822 shops of the Punjab auqaf department are under illegal occupation of over 6,300 people. In addition to this, the department employees have set up seven illegal colonies on over 400 kanals in Lahore, provincial minister for auqaf Syed Zaeem Hussain Qadri told The Nation in an interview here yesterday.

Qadri, who was assigned the portfolio only recently, saw in disbelief when he was briefed about the auqaf properties illegally occupied by various people, some of them quite influential, as a result of which the department is losing huge amounts in revenues every year.

He is taking necessary legal and administrative measures to get back the government lands. The Lahore High Court chief justice is believed to have set up two benches to decide cases of auqaf lands. Also, an additional judge in every district is being assigned auqaf cases for early disposal.

A mechanism is also being worked out to monitor the progress.

The minister said most of auqaf lands under illegal occupation (5,403 acres) were in Faisalabad zone, a term used for an administrative division. The number of illegal occupants is 862. (The figure includes the illegal occupants of shops and houses of the department in this zone).

Faisalabad is followed by Dera Ghazi Khan and Bahawalpur zones where 935 and 447 acres are under the illegal possession.

Over 160 people of Pakpattan, 192 of Sargodha zones are illegally occupying 157 and 37 acres of lands, shops and houses.

Thirty-six acres of auqaf lands in Rawalpindi zone, 16 in Gujranwala and 10 in Lahore is under illegal occupation.

In Lahore, although the area is comparatively less, the number of occupants is higher than all other zones. It is 10 acres. The number of shops and houses illegally occupied are 82 and 1,735 respectively.

The lowest occupation of the auqaf land is four acres in Multan zone. However the number of illegal occupants of the government property stands at 132. (More details are given in the chart).

Answering a question, the minister said at present the department was receiving Rs 1,866 million in revenues and the amount would go up to 4,000 million if illegal occupation of the lands was brought to an end.

Mr Qadri said there were also reports of pilferage from the cash boxes of important shrines. To eradicate corruption, he said, electronic lock system was introduced on all cash boxes. He believed that the department’s income would go up with this single step.

Illegal colonies have been set up on more than 400 kanals of the department lands by the auqaf employees.

The waqfs whose lands have been occupied are: Haq Nawaz Trust (Kot Khwaja Saeed); Bu Ali Qalandar Bagrian; Dars Bar-i-Mian Baghbanpura; Masjid Bahar Wali Hanjarwal; Atari Sarooba (Ferozepur Road); Darbar Hazrat Akbar Shaheed (Kot Lakhpat) and Masjid Sidq Ali Shah (Clifton Colony).

A total of 403 plots have been carved out of the occupied lands.

The minister said a policy about the occupied lands would be announced in the near future.

According to the minister, more than 390 acres of the auqaf land is under occupation of 16 katchi abadis in Lahore. The occupants, he said, had not been paying the government rent for about three decades.