LAHORE (Dawn): The pace of work on Diamer-Bhasha Dam (DBD) defies the government commitment to pursue the project with speed. The dam necessitated the acquisition of thousands of acres of land owned by the state and individuals. Private owners are now demanding payment of penalties against delays in purchase of their land and while the authorities have been able to secure large stretches of state land in Gilgit-Baltistan, the transfer of state land in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa is pending.
A Wapda document states that state land measuring 989 acres in KP is to be transferred for the project, but the province says it is quite unaware of such a requirement. “The ministry of water and power or Wapda has not approached us over the matter,” says Waqar Ayub, a member of KP’s Board of Revenue. At the same time, the government is faced with problems in its dealings with private owners. They have been demanding payment of interest or penalty for the authorities’ failure to acquire their land within the stipulated period that ended in December 2013.
“The private land acquisition is a big challenge,” says a senior official in Wapda. “We are striving to make the landowners agree to not press for the penalty, but so far they have stuck to their stance.” According to official record, 37,419 acres of state and private land — 35,991 acres in Gilgit-Baltistan and 1,428 acres in KP — is required for launching the civil work on the dam. Of which 989 acres, owned by the state, are to be acquired through a transfer by the provincial government.
According to the current status, the Gilgit-Baltistan government has transferred 17,214 of the 18,073 acres of the required land in its area to Wapda. Similarly, Wapda has so far acquired 3,048 acres of the total 18,073 acres of private land required in Gilgit-Baltistan and 162 of the total 462 acres of private land in KP.
The Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved the PC-1 (Part-1) for land acquisition and resettlement on Nov 6, 2008. In that document the acquisition of the land was to cost Rs60 billion. That covered the net land cost of Rs7.062bn (assets), while the rest of the money was to be spent on the social action plan. Ecnec approved the PC-1 of the whole project for Rs894.257bn ($11.178bn) on Aug, 20, 2009. A revision in April 2014 doubled the cost of land to Rs119.975bn which was then rationalised to Rs101.221bn.
“Since the state land is transferred for development projects free of cost, the total estimated cost of the required private land and assets is Rs49.886bn based on the revised rates approved by ECC,” reads a Wapda document. The document says the land acquisition process began in 2010 and it was to be completed in three years (by December 2013). “And after this the government has to pay interest/penalty to the landowners/affectees.”
While an estimated Rs42.004bn is required to buy the private land for the project, the government allocated Rs25bn for the purpose in the budgets of 2013-14 and 2014-15. “We had allocated Rs10bn for land acquisition in the ongoing fiscal year for acquiring the private land. And now we plan to allocate Rs15bn for this purpose in the next fiscal year,” Finance Minister Ishaq Dar said in his budget speech.
Since it is an insufficient allocation, the government will be unable to acquire the entire private land required for the project, exposing itself to calls of penalties from the owners. Wapda has yet to acquire 14,870 acres (83 per cent) of the total 17,918 acres of private land required in Gilgit-Baltistan and 277 acres (63pc) of the total 439 acres of private land required in KP. Wapda has almost succeeded in getting 90pc of the total required state land transferred in its name in Gilgit-Baltistan, while it has yet to get 989 acres of state land (100pc) in KP.
Waqar Ayub tells Dawn by telephone he has not seen any request from the ministry of water and power or Wapda forwarded to the KP government or the Board of Revenue directly or indirectly since the initiation of the process in 2010. “Had the ministry or Wapda written to us after identifying or demarcating a piece of state land required for the dam, we would have taken action. What I know is the authorities are acquiring private land in Kohistan and we are helping them in the task.”
On the other hand, Wapda’s former general manager (land acquisition and resettlement) Dr Raheel Ahmad Siddiqui says the entire record /correspondence related to requisition of the entire state land (both in Gilgit-Baltistan and KP) is available with the quarters concerned. “The figure of 989 acres of state land you are asking about was given by the KP government and not by Wapda,” says Mr Siddiqui, who is now the secretary of KP’s excise and taxation department. “Later on the land was distributed among the tribal people.”