Posts Tagged ‘Land’

Another Plea to the Chief Justice of Pakistan

April 12, 2018

By Anjum Altaf

Once upon a time there was an amenity plot assigned as a playground to a school in a central part of Karachi. Then, one day, the Government of Pakistan (GoP) took it over and handed it to the Ministry of Defence (MoD) which turned it to commercial use prompting the late Ardeshir Cowasjee to direct “A plea to the Lord Chief Justice” which appeared in this newspaper on 14.6.2009.

Lo and behold, the Lord Chief Justice took note, the case was brought to court, and a judgement pronounced on 18.12.2009 by Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja. What follows from court documents is a summary of this astounding land grab and an update of its status following the judgement.

According to the citizens the 5 acre plot was transferred by GoP to the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) on 12.8.1976 for the Lines Area Redevelopment Project and designated in the Master Plan as an amenity plot to be used as playground. It was subsequently claimed by GoP that while contiguous land was indeed transferred to CDGK, this particular plot was excluded and remained part of the Karachi Cantonment.

Following this reclamation, General Musharraf, the then military ruler, granted on 19.12.2002 a 90 years lease on the plot to the Army Welfare Trust (AWT) at the nominal yearly rent of Rs. 6,020 only. The court noted that contrary to its name that suggests some institutional affiliation with the Pakistan army, the AWT was registered as a Non-Government Organization, a private society, under the Societies Registration Act. It was however a fact that General Musharraf was at the time the ex-officio Patron of the AWT in his capacity of COAS.

On 31.7.2006, the AWT in turn transferred the land to a private party (Makro-Habib Pakistan Limited) by way of a sub-lease for an initial term of 30 years receiving an advance rent of Rs. 100,000,000 based on a variable annual amount of at least Rs. 17,500,000 and a maximum equivalent to 1% of the annual turnover of Makro-Habib which was initially incorporated as a joint venture between SHV, a Dutch multinational, and the House of Habib, a Pakistani corporate group. SHV held 70% of the equity in the venture but later divested its share to the House of Habib with permission to use the ‘Makro’ brand name. After the execution of the sub-lease, Makro-Habib constructed a wholesale centre on the plot.

Following a meticulous examination of the argument advanced by GoP, AWT, and Makro-Habib that the playground was not transferred to CDGK, the Court concluded it was “wholly untenable.” Based on this finding that the land was not the property of the MoD, both its lease of the land to AWT and the subsequent sub-lease to Makro-Habib were declared null and void. Makro-Habib was allowed “three months from the date of the judgement, to remove its structures and installations from the playground, restore it to the same condition as existed on the date of the sub-lease and hand over its vacant possession to the CDGK.”

The Court was also “led to the inescapable conclusion that Government land was virtually thrown away at great financial loss to the Government and in utter disregard of the CLA [Cantonment Land Administration] Rules.”

In addition, the Court referred specifically to a paragraph in a Ministry of Defence Summary for the Chief Executive dated 20.9.2002 which read as follows: “Since Rules do not permit leasing out defence land free of cost, MoD supports payment of nominal premium and rent by AWT, being a welfare organization.” With reference to this paragraph, the Court observed: “We have also noted the cynical play with the CLA Rules” and that the document “presents a damning indictment of dictatorial one man rule.”

The aggrieved parties filed a review petition against the decision which was dismissed by the Supreme Court on 27.8.2015. But even after the dismissal of the review petition, the orders of the Court remain outstanding. The Makro-Habib structure continues to stand although without transacting any business. The result is a lose-lose proposition in which a valuable property is fulfilling neither its original nor its engineered purpose.   

This unsatisfactory outcome prompts the following questions: How is it possible that a judgement of the Supreme Court can remain unimplemented for nine years? What is the recourse for citizens if Supreme Court judgements can be stonewalled even after the dismissal of review petitions? Why does the Supreme Court not have the powers to have its judgements implemented?

These are important questions and deserving of another plea to the Lord Chief Justice: Please take suo moto notice of why judgements on prior suo moto notices cannot be implemented. And if they cannot, to explain why the practice deserves to continue in the future.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on April 10, 2018, and is reproduced here with permission of the author. The author is indebted to Dr. Syed Raza Ali Gardezi for his critical review of the facts presented in this opinion. Dr. Gardezi continues to represent the citizens in this case.

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Land Grants

February 15, 2017

By Anjum Altaf

Is there any other country that rewards government employees with grants of land? The issue is not whether the grants comply with existing rules or follow precedent but whether the practice makes sense in the modern age.

We are no longer living in the age of monarchy or colonial rule when land was gifted at will by the rulers to whomsoever pleased them – just think of the landed gentry we inherited as a result. We are now in the era of democracy in which public resources belong to citizens and are to be used in accordance with their sanction. In our system these decisions are made by their representatives in appropriate legislative forums. If citizens are not satisfied with the decisions of their representatives they have the well-known triad of ‘Exit, Voice, and Loyalty’ to fall back on which itself is a democratic choice. In short, they can ignore, oppose, or support the representatives depending on whether their preferences are being respected or not.

We are also living in the age of science where all authority can be questioned as long as the mode of inquiry itself adheres to a set of acceptable rules. In this case the rules of inquiry are enshrined in the right to information. Since there are no conceivable issues of national security involved in matters pertaining to in-service and retirement benefits of state servants, citizens are quite justified to inquire into the rules applicable to such benefits especially when they involve allocation of public resources.

Therefore, it seems quite reasonable to ask for a transparent disclosure of the rules applicable to land grants at this time. A number of questions are very relevant to the review: Who made these rules? When were they made? Have they been debated and approved by the legislature? How do they vary across services? How do they compare across countries? Etc., etc.

Such a review might yield a number of advantages: A reformulation of benefits in accordance with modern bureaucratic practices, a more equitable distribution across services, and a legitimized dispensation more acceptable to citizens.

At first blush, it does seem that grants in terms of land are an anachronistic practice dating, as mentioned before, to the age of monarchy and colonial rule when jagirs were assigned at will. Some might be aware of the Homestead Acts of the mid-nineteenth century in the US when, for a nominal sum, grants of 160 acres of land were made to any citizen migrating West and willing to settle on and farm the land for at least five years. In all over 270 million acres of public land was given away under these acts.

One should not forget that in the US all this land was stolen from native inhabitants. It is interesting that similar acts were passed in Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, all settler colonies with small immigrant populations in which land was also appropriated from native inhabitants. In this day and age one would want to avoid the impression that land is being appropriated from the citizens of Pakistan and distributed to members of a conquering population.

It also does appear from casual observation that the benefits presently assigned to the armed forces in Pakistan are disproportionate to those for other services and to global norms. The people’s representatives might well decide there are sufficient reasons for the discrimination but it would be good to gain the understanding and acceptance of the citizens to avoid controversies in the future.

A flavor of the pros and cons was conveyed in a recent discussion where it was mentioned that since members of the armed forces risked their lives in the service of their country they were entitled to disproportionate benefits. This point was conceded but it was mentioned that those working in coal mines and stone crushing factories exposed themselves to greater risk of death. Not only that, they faced the certainty of shortened lifespans because of lung diseases caused by inhaling the coal and silica dust. These workers were not even compensated for work-related mortality or morbidity. The conclusion was that there was a justification for compensatory awards in the event of death or disability at work but not really for the normal execution of duties for which one received adequate emoluments.

It was also mentioned that since our armed forces were the best in the world they were entitled to benefits exceeding global norms. It is indeed quite acceptable to have higher rewards for services over and above expectations but again it would eliminate areas of contention if the global norms are made part of the public disclosure.

An indirect disadvantage of rewarding government employees in this manner is that still far too many aspire for government service without really wanting to serve in the interest of the public. This may be one reason why there is so little innovative activity in Pakistan. Given that such civil servants have been complicit in the mismanagement of public enterprises, a particularly just solution might be to substitute the allocation of scarce land with shares in bankrupt state-owned enterprises like the steel mill or the national airline. This might create some self-interest to improve the profitability of these assets for the shares to yield value. In a capitalist economy there is no quarrel with becoming rich but it is socially beneficial if fortunes are made by entrepreneurial and managerial ability rather than through capturing rents.

No patriotic Pakistani wishes to malign the institutions of the state but citizens do wish to avoid tarnishing the image of the country by conveying the impression that it is a governed by a kleptocratic and authoritarian clique that assigns resources to itself and stifles discussion through intimidation. A little bit of transparency should dispel all such doubts.

This opinion appeared in Dawn on February 14, 2017 and is reproduced here with permission of the author. There is a logical connection with an earlier post: A DNA Test for Our Democracy

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The Curious Case of Hyderabad Sindh

July 17, 2013

By Anjum Altaf

Peshawar is by no means the busiest airport in the world but compared to Hyderabad it is a monster.

I mentioned in an earlier post (Anchoring Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province) that the number of flights per week into Peshawar airport was 79 of which 56 were from the Middle East. I used the information to venture that the KP economy was anchored in the Middle East and that this was not due to the flow of investment into KP but the export of manpower from it.

A reader commented that what I had mentioned for Peshawar was true of every big city in Pakistan. This may well be established and, if so, it would suggest that Pakistan as a whole is a manpower exporting economy – statistics indicate that almost the only positive number in recent years has been remittances from workers overseas.

Still, it is my guess that Peshawar is an outlier amongst cities in Pakistan and that extending the comparison to every city is not warranted. I make my point by referring to the curious case of Hyderabad which in terms of population size is of the same order as Peshawar.

In extending the research to Hyderabad, I was, much to my annoyance, surprised again. I had not expected to find that Hyderabad airport had actually remained inoperative for ten years till 2008 and just this year has been closed to commercial traffic again.

My memory of earlier years recalls flights to Hyderabad from Lahore and Islamabad via Nawabshah but clearly something had changed. This warrants investigation given that in the normal course one would expect more economic integration not less over time.

A number of scenarios could be postulated. First, Hyderabad might really have declined economically over the years and is not any more a viable destination for air traffic. I would be skeptical of this explanation given that there are still flights into smaller cities like Sukkur.

Second, it could be the case that there is real economic demand for service which is not being met for reasons we are unaware of. If so, it would signal a failure of the political process through which the needs of a community are articulated and met.

Third, it could be that Hyderabad can do without air service because of the proximity of Karachi. I am not convinced of this argument which could be made just as plausibly for Peshawar. One could ask why Islamabad airport does not serve the same purpose for Peshawar.

The answer to the last question should be obvious: Enough passengers wish to fly directly to Peshawar which makes the supply of air service a viable proposition. There is clearly not the same magnitude of passenger demand into Hyderabad.

This brings me back to the study of relative labor flows from and to Pakistan that was mentioned in the post on Peshawar. The district-level study summarized its findings as follows: “The general pattern seems to suggest that the less developed districts have high out-migration and low return-migration, whereas the more developed districts… have low out-migration and high return-migration.”

It then highlighted the exceptions: “The only districts that do not fit into this pattern are the less developed districts of Sindh and lower Punjab, which are characterised by both low out- and return-migration.”

The puzzle was that while both the erstwhile NWFP and Sindh were characterized by similar indices of rural poverty, the relative outmigration of labor from the former was much higher than from the latter. One of the joys of research is stumbling upon the unexpected – I realized for myself the importance of the dog that does not bark. While we were focused on studying the causes of migration, the lack of migration from some areas was an equally important phenomenon to explore and explain.

It was my inference at that time that the explanation of the puzzle pertaining to the very different individual responses to rural poverty resided in the nature of the land tenure systems in the two provinces – one tied its labor to the land in much more coercive ways than the other. The why and how of it are fascinating topics to explore but I leave them here to the imagination of the reader.

It was natural to extend this insight to the movement of labor from rural Sindh within Pakistan. The immobility hypothesis explains why, for example, Karachi is the largest Pakhtun and not Sindhi city in the world despite the fact it is located in Sindh and over a 1000 kilometres from Peshawar.

The internal movement of labor in Sindh also threw up an interesting contrast with the Punjab. The ethnic homogeneity in the latter meant that both labor and capital circulated freely between rural and urban locations in the province. The ethnic heterogeneity in Sindh, with rural and urban areas dominated by different groups growing increasingly alienated from each other, meant that the corresponding circulation of labor and capital was much more restricted if not severed altogether.

The deprivation of modernizing capital investments from urban areas had obvious negative implications for the prospects of rural development in Sindh. For our limited hypothesis related to demand for air service, it meant that both international and national flows of labor from rural Sindh were severely constrained.

To some extent, this provides a partial explanation for the curious case of Hyderabad whose airport has remained barely functional over the years. Of course, it highlights a number of larger questions about local variations in political economy and their implications for the nature of economic change that would bear more careful analysis.

Anjum Altaf is Dean of the School of Humanities, Social Sciences and Law at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. This op-ed appeared in Dawn on July 16, 2013 and is reproduced here with permission of the author.

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Development: A Loss of Focus?

September 25, 2011

By Anjum Altaf 

[I am concerned about the perspective of proponents of economic development in India regarding people considered to be in the way of development, be they tribals living on mineral resources or farmers occupying land needed for industry. This concern has made me revisit the question of priorities: does development take precedence over people or should people determine the kind of development that ought to be pursued?

I addressed this question in 1992 when I was at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill as a visiting faculty member. The paper was written for an Expert Meeting on the Role of Families in Development organized by the Committee on Population of the National Research Council in Washington, DC. It was published in 1993 in the proceedings of the meeting (Family and Development: Summary of an Expert Meeting, K. Foote and L. Martins, Eds. National Academy of Sciences Press, Washington, DC).]

The key issue addressed in the paper, which should be sufficient to motivate a discussion on this forum, is excerpted below. (more…)

More on the Law of Inheritance

May 29, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

Picking up on the speculation about the causes of poverty of Indian Muslims, I did some more reading on the subject. The bottom line is that the variations in the laws of inheritance matter in very interesting ways.

Let me outline some of basic contours here and hope we can discuss the details in the comments.

Where the principal form of property was land, a law favoring equal division amongst all heirs would lead to fragmented holdings while a law decreeing transfer to one heir only would avoid fragmentation. (more…)

On the Poverty of Indian Muslims

May 23, 2009

By Anjum Altaf

Being a Tribute to Dr. G.M. Mehkri 

The 2006 Sachar Committee report on the status of the Muslim community in India found that Muslims were amongst the poorest of the poor in the country.

How do we square that with the fact that up until 1857 Muslims had ruled parts of India for over 800 years? I mention this fact because, in the minds of some people, Muslims had expropriated all the wealth of India during this period and oppressed all the non-Muslims.

India has been independent for a little more than 60 years, so this transformation from being the owners of the land to being the poorest of the poor could not conceivably have occurred during this short period.

So, did the decline of the Muslims occur during the less than hundred years of British rule between 1857 and 1947? If so, how?

I don’t know.  I am writing this post partly to find out and partly to discharge a long-owed debt to Dr. G.M. Mehkri, a remarkable man in my opinion, who I met just once in the mid-1980s and have never forgotten because he had a very unique perspective on this issue.

Dr. Mehkri had a hypothesis that intrigued me. I don’t really know if it would survive a rigorous test but that seems beside the point. What fascinated me was the audacity and innovativeness of his thinking and his ability to communicate the excitement of such thinking to a younger generation. He was the kind of teacher one would have loved to have as a thesis advisor.

Here is the gist of his hypothesis as best as I remember after all these years:

Islam was born as a religion of the desert where land was of little value. The principal forms of property in the early years of Islam were animals (camels, horses, sheep) that are reproducible assets.

When a man died, his property was divided according to the Islamic law of inheritance to all his heirs in certain proportions. With reproducible assets, even if an heir inherited a pair of sheep, he/she could build up a stock again with a reasonable amount of diligence and common sense.

You should already be getting the drift of the story.

When Muslims came to India, they applied the same law of inheritance in a country where the principal form of property was land, which is a non-reproducible asset. You divide up land amongst the heirs and pretty soon (say over two or three generations) the size of a holding becomes uneconomic to farm. The owners have no option but to sell the land and join the category of the landless.

Dr. Mehkri had some extensions to this story:

First, the Hindu inheritance law and joint family institution were adapted to land being the principal form of property. This must have had many other implications but one that was relevant was that the process of inter-generational dilution of property was not the same. In general, Muslims whose land holdings became too small to farm did not sell out to other Muslims but to non-Muslims.

Second, that there were three Muslim trading communities (Bohris, Khojas and Memons, if I remember right) who converted to Islam from Hinduism but retained their old institution of joint property holding. These were the only three communities that remained prosperous amongst the Muslims.

Once again, I don’t know if these hypotheses would be sustained by detailed research but at the level of theory they do highlight the fact that the laws of inheritance have a great bearing on economic outcomes over generations. And this relationship has attracted very little attention.

There are a number of fascinating extensions that came to mind as I pursued the line of thought opened up by Dr. Mehkri. I will write about them in a later post.

To conclude this tribute, I want to return to the reason I raised the possibility that the British period might have a bearing on the phenomenon of Muslim impoverishment. Under the Mughals, all land was the property of the emperor and was subject to tax-farming under the mansabdari system. I doubt that the mansabdars cared whether those from whom they extracted taxes were fellow-religionists or not, just as modern factory owners don’t discriminate amongst their employees on the basis of shared identities. That should take care of the speculation that ordinary Muslims had benefited inordinately from Muslim rule in India.

But more importantly, if there were no ownership of land Dr. Mehkri’s theory would not have applied during that period. It was only under the British that the Permanent Settlements were introduced (beginning with Bengal in 1793) and private ownership of land became a reality with the mansabdars being transformed into lawful owners of their domains. Only after this change could the process of dilution of land holdings of this Mughal elite could have started.

This hypothesis is extended to include the implications of primogeniture in More on the Law of Inheritance.

I wonder if someone would be able to obtain a copy of Dr. Mehkri’s dissertation and delve into this topic in more depth. The details are as follows: Mehkri, G.M.  The Social background of Hindu-Muslim relationship, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bombay. Bombay: Bombay University, 1947, English. National Social Science Documentation Centre (NASSDOC), 35 Feroz Shah Road, New Delhi: 110001, India.

June 2011 Update: The NASSDOC copy is missing. A copy of the thesis has been located in the archives of the Bombay University library. I have not had access to it yet.