Lahore, November 15: The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) has expressed concern over reports of registration of a criminal case against 175 tenants of military farms in Okara, for allegedly resisting a contractor from taking possession of 100 acres of land leased to him.
A statement issued by the commission on Sunday said: “It is a matter of concern that tensions have once again risen in the villages of military farms in Okara. The tenants’ claim that a number of tough men had accompanied the contractor to take possession of land that had previously been under the tenants’ cultivation is a matter of concern. Media reports suggest that the tenants had overpowered and handed over to the police at least one proclaimed offender. In the circumstances, registration of a case against the tenants necessitates a transparent inquiry.
HRCP must emphasise that no one must be allowed to take the law into his own hands. The movement of Okara tenants for their rights has been characterised by non-violence. HRCP hopes that the legal process will not be used to victimise anyone.
The Commission also has apprehensions about the living conditions of tenants in six villages of the Okara military farms—villages 11/4L, 15/4L, 16/4L, 24/4L, 25/4L, and 26/4L—in the Okara cantonment limits. Credible reports suggest that no development work has taken place in these villages for a decade. Basic facilities such as roads and sewerage in the six villages have fallen apart due to lack of allocation of funds.
Furthermore, HRCP has received with alarm reports that although National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) had issued National Identity Cards (NICs) to residents of the six villages, and that these cards bear the address of these villages, now the NADRA authorities in Okara say that no such villages exist and that they have no record of the six villages. This despite the fact that in the last general elections voters from the villages had exercised their right to vote on the basis of NICs issued by NADRA.
The tenants also say that four years earlier the authorities had stopped the construction of a primary school building for boys in village 26/4L, and village children were facing difficulties as the incomplete building only needed a roof. Meanwhile, measures to prevent tenants’ children from attending school in the cantonment area, if true, can only be strongly denounced.
To state the obvious, the tenants are as entitled to development in their area as residents of any other part of the country and a systematic denial of development funds gives credence to the apprehension of the tenants that they are being punished for demanding their legitimate rights and that such tactics are a device to force them out of their villages.
HRCP demands that the military farm tenants must be allowed to exercise all the rights that the law of the land provides and that they must not be targeted through abuse of the legal process. They must also not be denied their identity documents nor the right to peacefully live, work and prosper on land that they and their forefathers have brought under cultivation through their sweat and toil.”
Dr Mehdi Hasan