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Over 30 shops built on military land locked in Drosh

DROSH: About 30 shops built on military land in Drosh and leased out to local people have been sealed by the authorities.

The military owns the land in the old bazaar of the town on which the local people have built shops and houses after taking the land on lease. However, of late, a dispute has cropped up between the leaseholders and Chitral Scouts which led to the closure of the shops.

Talking to ChitralToday, Haji Shad Muhammad, one of the shopkeepers, said his father purchased five shops in an auction from Hindu and Sikh traders who were leaving the area after the creation of Pakistan in 1947.

He said the land on which the shops were built belonged to the air force and given to the locals on lease decades back. He said there were about 80 shops and 45 houses built by the local people on the state land who used to pay a nominal lease amount per year to the Chitral Scouts.

He said things went smoothly until 2000 when the then commandant of Chitral Scouts changed the renewable lease period from 10 years to three years. After about six months the commandant was transferred and his successor cancelled the lease period fixed by his predecessor.

He said in the year 2010 the Chitral Scouts took all the leaseholders to the court and after a few hearings the then commandant called the representatives of the leaseholders to the Chitral Scouts headquarters and during a meeting offered an out-of-court settlement.

Haji Shad said the shopkeepers held consultations with each other and most of them agreed to the out-of-court settlement according to which the two parties would renew the lease agreement every year and there would be a five per cent annual increase in the rent.

He clarified that the leaseholders used to pay rent for the land on per foot basis. However, he added, after one year (2011), the Scouts did not renew the agreement and started taking the amount after every three months.

He said the shopkeepers last paid the rent for November 2015 to January 2016. Haji Nashad said in the beginning of March this year, the Scouts sent the shopkeepers a notice stating that they had been occupying the military land and should vacate it by March 16.

He said after receiving the notice, the shopkeepers met the wing commander of Chitral Scouts in Drosh who told them to either vacate the land or pay rent for the shops at the market rate. But the shopkeepers were of the view that they had constructed the structures on their own and can pay only the lease amount for the land. They said the Scouts can increase the lease amount for the land, not the rent of the shops and houses built by the people on their own. He said the shopkeepers presented the officer two proposals.

First, they would be following the agreement of 2010 and pay the rent with five per cent annual increase. Second, two engineers should be hired, one by the Chitral Scouts and one by the shopkeepers, to assess the cost of the material used in the construction of the buildings on the land and if Scouts pays the cost of the buildings to the owners the latter would be paying the rent for the shops at the market said on April 1, the Scouts came to the bazaar and locked about 30 to 35 shops. He said the shopkeepers were planning to approach the court to resolve the matter.

ChitralToday has approached the Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) where an officer said he would give the version of the Chitral Scouts on Monday.

This newspaper will pursue the matter and as soon as it gets the version from the military it would publish it accordingly to present a clear picture to the readers about the matter.

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