After the partition of the Subcontinent on August 14,1947, while there was an inflow of refugees, there was also mass exodus of Hindus and Sikhs to the other side of the border leaving behind their properties and wealth. To rehabilitate the Muslims who opted for the new land, a department of Settlement and Rehabilitation was established which was headed by the Chief Settlement Commissioner (CSC). Reputable senior officers were posted to the department to settle property claims. As it was a new outfit, the record was built on the available property information from municipalities and the revenue department. In a few years, a well-equipped records room was established which had information of Evacuee Property. It was headed by a very conscientious individual who was known as Mumtaz Bola (hard of hearing in Punjabi) and was located on the top floor of the majestic Faridkot House near Mozang. Most state rulers and Nawabs had their mansions in Lahore which they frequently visited, only a few remain while most have vanished. Perhaps Chamba House is the only building which still stands in its original form.

Faridkot House was also torn down to be replaced by several ugly blocks of offices and court rooms while the record of the department was archived in 1975 when the Evacuee Property and Displaced Persons Law (Repeal) Act was passed by the provincial assembly. Only unsettled pending cases were allowed to continue while for all practical purposes, the department was considered shut. From 1975 till 2014, the property owners had sigh of relief till the CSC decided to revive itself by sending letters to registrars and assistant commissioners, directing them not to record property transactions unless the documents were verified by the Officer In-charge, Records.

What this meant was that all cases settled by the department in 67 years (1947 to 2014) were now open to review based on a depleted record that was archived about four decades earlier (1975 to 2014).

When I had the chance of recently revisiting the current records room at Faridkot House, I was reminded of Mumtaz Bola, the exemplary Record Keeper of the sixties. My father always believed that Mumtaz was not hard of hearing, acting dumb was his weapon of defence to protect the record for which he considered himself responsible. In those days, merit prevailed and most civil servants wanted to serve and facilitate, not exploit. Tipping as a token of gratitude after the job was done and was considered kosher, it ranged anywhere from Rs 10 to 100 considering the nature of the task. In order to prove his point, my old man left a Rs 10 note under the file as tea allowance for Mumtaz and murmured in a low tone, he promptly acted and picked it up in gratitude. To protect his record, he wanted to keep a written ledger of its movement, verbal orders were neither understood nor followed as he was a declared ‘Bhola’ which in fact he was not. The records room was well kept, files and their pages were clearly numbered and the registers marked and bound. As it was located on the top floor of the building, the visitors were limited and controlled. Climbing up through the unending set of stairs was an uphill task.

In the eighties, during my study years in the USA, after about twenty years of my meeting with ‘Mumtaz Bola’, I was introduced to a new communication tool called AVO (Avoid Verbal Orders). In order to get the job done, this instrument was used to convey the order in a written form, it was effective and convenient as both the officer and his subordinate were covered with complete trace ability. On my return to the land of the pure, where words and commitment have lost their value, I introduced this system in two organisations that I headed (Pakistan Science Foundation, PITAC). What my friend ‘Bola’ had informally implemented in the sixties, I was able to formally launch it. Imagine if this system is introduced in our police stations; all these mysterious arrests and releases based on telephone calls would come to a grinding halt. Political parties like PML-N and PML-Q will lose all their clout if verbal orders are overruled.

When I visited the office of OIR recently, I first requested a copy of their 2014 communication whose details are given above. I was first sent to the dispatch department who could not trace their own letter. Then I was directed to the office of the Secretary who had no clue of the letter issued by his office. Since then I have interacted with four CSCs to get a copy of this ill-fated letter, but with no success. Finally, I met the current CSC on July 14, 2020 with the same request, he has sought a period of sixty days to trace this communication. Such is the current state of the record keeping at the Settlement Department which once had a functional records room headed by the one and only Mumtaz Bola, who put up a bold act to effectively perform his duties to protect and secure the record.

Since 2014, it has been a big mess out there. With burnt, non-credible records, property owners have been subjected to mental abuse. All settled cases have been reopened for purposes of document verification. On public complaints and unnecessary litigation, the Senior Member Board of Revenue (SMBR) has proposed an amendment into the act to once again close the department and move the record to his office from Faridkot House where it is currently located in its dilapidated form. This will be another disaster, I am sure Mumtaz Bola will be turning in his grave on another ill-planned movement of the record he secured so dearly. Without covering the free fall period between 2014 and 2020, this move will create more confusion. I have requested for an immediate audit of the records of the Settlement Department before it is moved together with an amendment in the act to declare all adverse decisions null and void that were based on this falsified record since 2014.

It is not only the record of the Settlement Department that is ill-kept; most public Record Rooms are in disarray. In Lahore, the entire record of the DC’s office was burnt in the nineties, the LDA record room has faced arson several times; only the record of Lahore Municipal Corporation (LMC) is intact. Record keepers like Bola are needed to secure public interests but such a breed of committed individuals have now become extinct. There is a pay-for-service system, no upfront payment, no service, in the words of Abba Ji, “Every man has a price, pay and get your job done” forget about rules and regulations. The distinction between right and wrong no longer exists. Without a secure and credible record as it used to be there can be no review or authentic decisions. For revival of institutions, restoration of record plays a vital role which has been ignored so far, allowing the mafias to rule over us.