PESHAWAR: The two mega housing projects planned by the Defence Housing Authority in Peshawar have upset the local farming community, who fear the development of the proposed schemes will not only deprive them of a large swath of fertile land but will also adversely affect their livelihood.

The DHA Peshawar, a subsidiary of the Pakistani Army, has planned to develop the two schemes in the suburbs of the provincial capital and recently placed advertisements in newspapers to seek staff though the government has banned sale, purchase and allotment of land in areas specified for the projects.

Officials in the housing department said Chief Minister Pervez Khattak had approved the summary and authorised DHA to develop housing schemes in two Peshawar localities.

They said the revenue department had invoked Section 4 of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 before banning the sale and purchase of immoveable properties in Wodpaga and portion of land opposite the Regi Lalma Township on Nasir Bagh Road.

Growers fear schemes to deprive them of fertile land, bread and butter
An official said under the DHA Peshawar Act, 2009, the housing department was bound to notify names of the areas allowing DHA to develop housing schemes there.

He said the chief minister had approved the DHA schemes.

The Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly had passed a bill in January 2009 for the establishment of DHA, Peshawar.

The DHA Peshawar, the act says, will function under a governing body, while the Peshawar corps commander will head it as chairman.

The official said thousands of acres land would be acquired for the two projects and that use of land in the specified localities had been granted to DHA.

He said under the law, nobody would be able to develop housing schemes in the areas without the DHA permission.

The farmers and senior government officials have serious reservations about the DHA schemes, which, they fear, will deprive owners of fertile land as well as bread and butter and thus, causing the mass displacement in the area populated by over 100,000 people.

“In principal, this is unfair to develop a housing scheme on agricultural land already inhabited by thousands of people but the government has no other option,” said an official.

He said the housing scheme supposed to be developed either on barren or arid land but the army had its own thinking. “We are the government servants and have to obey the order,” he said.

Former provincial agriculture minister Arbab Ayub Jan, who owns the vast farmland in Wodpaga locality, where one of the schemes has been proposed, said development of housing schemes on agricultural land was a violation of the decision of the provincial cabinets.

He said the provincial cabinets had decided first in 1988, then in 1994-95 and later in 2008-13 that there would be no conversion of agricultural land for commercial and housing activities in future.

The former minister said the proposed schemes would adversely affect population in three union councils by depriving hundreds of families depending on farming of livelihoods.

“It will have negative impacts on economy and environment of Peshawar as 60 per cent fertile land will vanish,” he said, adding that he and other stakeholders would go to the court against the schemes.

Arbab Ayub said Peshawar had already lost its greenery and agricultural land due to the massive influx of people from Fata and settled areas of the province.

He said the areas, where schemes were to be developed, were known for producing a variety of fruits, vegetables and crops and if the area was converted into a housing sector, then the people would have to procure fruits and vegetables from other provinces.

The countryside of Peshawar towards Charsadda district is called ‘food basket’ for producing different agricultural products.

The ‘Landcover Atlas of Pakistan’ designed by the Pakistan Forest Institute in 2012 shows of the total 111,702 hectares of Peshawar district, agricultural area measures 84,138 hectares and that the settlement is on 12,907 hectares, which is 11.6 per cent of the total area.

Former MPA Saqibullah Khan Chamkani said agricultural land in Peshawar had already shrunk due to the unplanned human settlements and that construction of housing schemes on farmlands would ruin agriculture sector.

He said Peshawar was like a ‘food basket’ for the entire province and therefore, the government and other entities should develop housing projects on barren areas.

An official of DHA Peshawar claimed the authority was going to launch housing projects at the request of the provincial government.

He said around six years ago, the then government and governor had requested the DHA to execute housing schemes in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa.

“The (Pakistan) Army is a national institution and for national integration, it should also introduce housing schemes in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa like it has done in Punjab and Sindh,” he said while quoting a paragraph of a letter of the former governor, who wrote to the military leadership.

The official said there was no harm in developing planned housing project, while the mushroom growth of unplanned settlements had encroached on agricultural land.

Published in Dawn, July 5th , 2014