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gulmit gojal hunza
The realigned KKH in Gulmit, Gojal. Photo Credit: Zaheer Bari

Will the NHA, Hunza district administration pay heed to the hue and cry of KKH project victims?

Projects under the much-celebrated China-Pakistan Economic Corridor have just kicked off and people in the power corridors have their eyes focused on the expected economic benefits of the CPEC projects for Pakistan. However, Islamabad has continuously overlooked any rational voices attempting to bring to their attention the bad governance factors that might push the economic corridor worth $46 billion into stagnation.

Take the case of a segment of the Karakorum Highway improvement and realignment project in Hunza district’s Gojal Valley. The project kicked off in 2007 and is in the final stage of completion, but landowners in Gojal Valley (Upper Hunza) affected by the project are still waiting to be compensated.

Violation of the Land Acquisition Act 1894

In clear violation of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, the government acquired the lands without even notifying the landowners, let alone asking them for any possible objections.  Their trees were cut, and their properties were damaged for improvement and realignment of the KKH. Despite the passage of nine years, landowners in Gojal Valley are still waiting to be compensated. They said that they brought the issue into the notice of the quarters concerned dozens of times but to no avail.

Officials from NHA and the district administration of Hunza have continuously ignored the hue and cry of the landowners. Instead of expediting the compensation payment process, the district administration and NHA have engaged the land affectees in a string of distressing rebuttals and unending procedures.

The landowners complained that their cultivable lands were taken over, and their precious trees were also chopped for improvement and realignment of the KKH, robbing them of the benefits of their agriculture and fruits for the last nine years. They alleged that the officials of the department concerned were making lame excuses to deprive them of the compensation amount.

Compensation for parts of KKH submerged in Attabad Lake

Take the case of parts of the KKH inundated by the Attabad Lake. NHA acquired the lands on the sides of the KKH without asking or informing the landowners and completed the highway improvement and expansion work of this segment in 2010. On Jan. 4, 2010, the Attabad landslide disaster occurred, creating the Attabad Lake that swell upstream and submerged these parts of the KKH. NHA didn’t pay the landowners then. It is not paying them now because the lands went underwater despite the fact that NHA had completed its work on them.

The GBCCI case

Then there is the case of the Gilgit-Baltistan Chamber of Commerce and Industry. GBCCI has claimed that a part of the land on which the KKH has been realigned belongs to it; however, landowners have disputed the claim. After the Attabad Lake submerged the KKH, the GBCCI was left with no option to transport their goods imported from China, so they started to illegally drive their trucks through agricultural lands owned by local people for centuries.

Neither did the GBCCI ask for permission of the landowners nor did it make any contract with them. It was an utterly illegal activity. And now GBCCI has claimed ownership of the land on which it drove its trucks and transported its goods. Landowners are left overwhelmed because the district administration of Hunza is supporting GBCCI in its claim.

The landowners assert that GBCCI has no evidence that the land belongs to it because it neither paid the land affectees any money nor did it prepare any documents for the acquisition. Shall we consider it an illegal occupation of the land by GBCCI?

“If the district administration continues to support GBCCI, we will be forced to take the issue to court,” said a landowner who requested not to be named. “We will win in court because GBCCI has no evidence the land belongs to it.”

Payment for this part of the land is now caught in the fight between the landowners, NHA, GBCCI and the district administration.

Takeaway

Had the Hunza district administration followed the provisions set out in the Land Acquisition Act 1894 in spirit, chances are these issues might not have popped up. The district administration, NHA and all other stakeholders and claimants must sit together and resolve the issue. And most importantly, they must listen to what the landowners have to say and pay them at the current market price because a big part of the CPEC’s success depends on the landowners.

Violating the rights of the most important CPEC stakeholders at this stage will create much bigger problems for other CPEC projects like CPEC Railway Network and oil and gas pipeline, all of which will pass through the lands of the same owners.

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