Salvaging encroached land becomes new challenge for Auqaf dept


–Auqaf & Religious Affairs secy hopeful to retrieve land, enhance revenue amid new govt’s strict policies

LAHORE: Retrieving its properties from the land mafia has become a new challenge for the Punjab Auqaf and Religious Affairs Department that is facing financial losses to the tunes of billions of rupees owing to these illegal occupations, Pakistan Today has learnt.

According to sources, almost 7,050 acres of agricultural land, 4,533 houses and 822 shops of the department have been occupied across the province by at least 6,300 encroachers that include political and influential figures. Citing the reasons behind the department’s inability to take stern action against them, sources informed Pakistan Today that for the past one decade, the department was being mismanaged and several secretaries had been transferred by the government.

“Within the last five years, eight secretaries and three ministers of the department have been changed while among these secretaries, only Nawazish Ali (late) worked to vacate the Auqaf’s land. He forwarded several summaries for the hiring of a law branch director but the process halted after his demise.”

Sources added that due to political influence and sluggishness of the department, no policy on commercial property could be formulated by the department either. “The revenue of the department is Rs1,866 million per annum, but if the encroached land is vacated, the revenue can enhance to Rs4 billion.”

They said that in Lahore, almost 400 canals of land was being used as illegal housing societies whereas, in Faisalabad, 5,043 acres of land had been illegally occupied by 862 persons. These properties include shops, houses and agricultural land.

“Encroachment and illegal occupation of land in Dera Ghazi Khan is 935 acres, Bahawalpur 441 acres; in Pakpattan, 161 persons have encroached 157 acres; in Sargodha, 192 persons have encroached 37 acres, Rawalpindi 36 acres, Multan 4 acres, Gujranwala 16 acres whereas in Lahore, 82 shops and 1,735 houses are encroached,” sources informed this scribe.

The land encroached for colonies houses the Kot Khawaja Saeed Haq Nawaz Trust, Bo Ali Qalandar Bagrian, Dars Baray Mian Baghbanpura, Masjid Bahir Wali Hanjarwal, Atari Saroba Ferozepur Road, Darbar Hazrat Akbar Shaheed Kot Lakhpat and Masjid Sadaq Ali Shah Clifton Colony, according to sources.

They said that the new Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) government had directed the Auqaf Department to retrieve the illegally occupied lands otherwise a strict action would be taken against the zonal administrators and managers whereas the Auqaf additional secretary had directed the same in writing.

“With an aggressive policy being introduced, it is hoped that the illegally occupied land would be retrieved and the department will be able to generate more revenue.”

Speaking to Pakistan Today, Auqaf and Religious Affairs Secretary Zulfiqar Ahmed Ghuman said that special teams, along with the district administration, were working for the removal of encroachments. “We are doing our homework and all those who have acquired the land illegally will be brought to trial,” he added.