Army Seeks 1m Acres State Land In Punjab For Cultivation, LHC Informed

Army Seeks 1m Acres State Land In Punjab For Cultivation, LHC Informed
The Director General Strategic Projects of the Pakistan Army has offered the Punjab Board of Revenue to develop "waste barren lands" in Punjab through corporate agro farming, The News reported.

According to the publication, in an official letter written to the Punjab Board of Revenue on February 8, the director general said that they would use corporate agro farming to develop "waste barren lands" in Punjab.

High food and oil prices are cited by the military as a significant threat to Pakistan's economy and agricultural industry. The army claims that it has experienced "gained through the development of waste barren lands, placed on military schedule in various parts of the country for the wards of martyrs and war-wounded personnel."

In the letter, the military suggests the "immediate" release of 10,000 to 15,000 acres of irrigated land for a test project, followed by 100,000 acres of land by March 1. This timeframe for the project is provided by the military. The document recommends the "identification and lease of one million acres [of state land] in the Cholistan Development Authority's area.

On Tuesday, the letter was delivered to the Lahore High Court (LHC), where Justice Abid Hussain Chattha is hearing a case pertaining to the matter.

It is significant to note that following the letter to the Board of Revenue in February, the Punjab government signed an agreement with the army in March to lease 45,267 acres of state land for corporate agricultural farming on a 20-year basis in the districts of Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal.

The Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan's lawyers, Fahad Malik and Ahmed Rafay Alam filed a petition in the LHC shortly after the notification became public on March 17, claiming that the grant of land by a caretaker government in Punjab was "unconstitutional and illegal" because a caretaker government was only allowed to carry out day-to-day tasks.

The petition further said that 23,027 of the nearly 45,000 acres of state land that would be transferred are forests. According to the petition, it is against Punjab’s law to clear or break land for agricultural purposes.

The transfer of the state land under lease to the Pakistan Army was halted by the LHC on March 31 following the petition's hearing.

Separately, during a news conference on April 25, the Inter-Services Public Relations Director General, Major General Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry, was questioned about the corporate farming initiative. He retorted that Pakistan's lack of food security was a problem.

"In developing and developed countries, their governments have used the military, in some way or another, to improve the agriculture sector," he said, adding that, in the end, it was up to the provincial and federal governments to decide what role the military may play in making lands more cultivable.

The Punjab government, via its lawyer, filed the February letter and the minutes of the provincial cabinet meeting that took place on February 28, 2017, in the LHC on Tuesday.

According to the minutes, the terms and conditions of corporate farming under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) were agreed in principle by the then-chief minister, Usman Buzdar.

However, the minutes also state that after a legal review of the draft and terms and conditions by pertinent government ministries, the matter must be brought before the provincial cabinet for consideration.

The court has adjourned the hearing till May 23.