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Govt runs into tribes while buying land for Mohmand dam


The site for Mohmand dam. Photo: SAMAA Digital

The government is gearing up to inaugurate Mohmand Dam in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa early next month—except getting the land to do this is proving harder than it thought.
The absence of a land settlement mechanism in the area has led to a dispute among the tribes who live there.

If the government wants to build Mohmand dam it will need 8,668 acres in three districts: Mohmand, Bajaur and Malakand. The government will have to pay for it, but there are two problems.
First, individual people do not own land here, so you can’t buy it off them. Land here is owned collectively by the tribes. And so when the government needs to ‘buy’ it the price has to be decided by the tribes.
SAMAA Digital has acquired documents that show that the average price per acre was calculated at Rs2.364 million for cultivable land and Rs0.48 million for barren land. This is reasonably close to the market rates per acre for agricultural land (Rs2 million to Rs2.4 million) and for barren land (Rs1 million to Rs1.4 million).

Now the government is trying to negotiate the rates for the land with the help of the district administration. It has to talk with the heads of the tribes and each sub-tribe has been asked to name two men to settle the amount.

A screengrab of a jirga held July 31 with the tribes of Mohmand to decide the land prices with Wapda’s chairman who came for a site visit. PHOTO: SAMAA Digital

MNA Anwar Taj from Mohmand has been holding jirgas with the tribes. He told SAMAA Digital that their demands had been conveyed to the higher leadership of the Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaf. They include a mutually agreed amount of compensation and that royalty should be on the basis of individuals and tribes. They want that a special provision in the project should be made for the direct supply of electricity (approx.100 MW) to Mohmand tribal district. Contracts for the supply of material should be awarded to local contractors. Job opportunities for up to grade BS-15 should be first offered to local youth. For higher level or technical jobs a special provision should be kept for local domicile holders. And as the tribal district has a continuous problem with depleting water levels, the dam’s irrigation channels should be constructed through five tehsils of the district.

The work starts in January 2019 and is expected to last till December. The dam was approved on April 26, 2018 and is expected to cost Rs309 billion.

On Wednesday, the minister for power resources, Faisal Vawda, said at a press conference that the prime minister would be at the ground-breaking ceremony in the first week of January. The dam would produce 800MW, he added and it would send water to the residents of Peshawar. An estimated Rs300 billion have so far been arranged to pay for it.

Land: an explainer

Getting the land for Mohmand Dam will, thus, involve working with the tribes. The acquisition and buying and selling of land have been traditionally managed according to slightly differently mechanisms here compared to that of the rest of Pakistan.
Zmaka, the tribal word used for land, holds a certain prestige factor for tribesmen. It is also a sign of authority—but by that token Zmaka also becomes a cause for conflict. Those who hold land, exercise power and hold sway over those who use it.

Mundda, the dam’s site. Photo: SAMAA Digital

Emblematically, land is the basic point that links the individual with his ancestors who inhabited, owned and used the land before. Land is divided between Qaum (tribe), Khel (clan), Tapa, Kandae (sub-clans), Plareena (plural of father) and finally Plar (father) or Naghare (chimney or chaar dewari). Individual land ownership in the tribe is undocumented but well known to succeeding generations.

The earliest of land settlement is from 1905. It drew a distinction between Bandobasti Maalik (settlement owner or native) and Ghair-Bandobasti Maalik (non-settlement owner). Landowners in Kurram, for example, at the time of the 1905 settlement were recognized as the natives or permanent residents or Bandobasti Malikaan of the agency.

Those who bought land here after 1905 are known as Ghair Bandobasti Malikaan. The difference between the two is that the descendants of a Bandobasti Maalik may inherit his property, and the Bandobasti Maalik himself or his offspring can also purchase land in Kurram.

However, if a Ghair Bandobasti Maalik wants to buy land in Kurram he will need verification from eight to 10 tribal elders, certifying that he is an old resident of Kurram Agency or his ancestors belong to this agency. This has to be finally sanctioned by the Political Agent. The transfer of land to the children of a Ghair Bandobasti Maalik is not smooth. This too requires verification from tribal elders and the sanction of the Deputy Commissioner.