Landowners challenge 1975’s notification in high court

PESHAWAR: People of Chitral have challenged in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) the 1975 notification which declares all mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and riverbeds in Chitral to be property of the provincial government.

The writ petition was filed by 100 people from Chitral, including former MPA Ghulam Mohammad and Muhibullah.

The petition filed through Barrister Asadul Mulk made the federation of Pakistan through secretary law and justice, federal secretary Ministry of Human Rights, federal secretary Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, federal secretary Ministry of Climate Change, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through Chief Secretary, Inspector General of Police, Provincial Secretary Law, Parliamentary Affairs, Provincial Secretary of Forests, Environment and Wildlife, Senior Member Board of Revenue, Commissioner Malakand Division, Deputy Commissioner Upper Chitral, Deputy Commissioner Lower Chitral and  Settlement Officer Upper and Lower Chitral as respondents.

It was explained in the 25-page writ petition that lately the notification had been invoked by the Settlement Office in Chitral to record over 95 per cent of the covered area of the upper and lower Chitral as government property.

For more than a year, the people of Chitral have been going from one office to another, pleading for the registry of their ancestral property in their name. Later, they decided to challenge the notification in the high court. 

“The Settlement Office citing the 1975 notification has been turning down their applications. Less than three per cent of upper and lower Chitral consists of arable land. If the 1975 notification is allowed to stand, the people of Chitral are at risk of being deprived of their ancestral property and reduced to non-entities,” explained the petition.

The petitioners stated that settlement in Chitral was in its final stage and that was why the people have decided to challenge the constitutionality of the 1975 notification.

It was explained that the districts of upper and lower Chitral previously formed the state of Chitral which was a princely state in subsidiary alliance with British India.

In 1947 the Westminster Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which provided for the setting up of two independent dominions from 15th August 1947, to be known as India and Pakistan.

Section 7 of the Act, it said, declared that the relationship of paramountcy between princely states and the British crown being non-transferrable would lapse with the creation of the two dominions and the Rules of Princely States would be at liberty to forge new alliances.

“His Highness Muzaffar-ul-Mulk, the Mehtar of Chitral, executed an Instrument of Accession with the Governor General of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam which was formally accepted on 18th February 1948. Thus the State of Chitral acceded to Pakistan, but remained a Princely State till 1969, when the martial law regime of General Yahya Khan issued the Dir, Chitral and Swat (Administration) Regulation 1969 and merged the Frontier States of Dir, Chitral and Swat into Pakistan,” explained in the petition.

Following the abolition of the Frontier States, it said, phenomenal amount of disputes concerning immovable property suddenly shot up.

In order to redress these disputes the Dir, Swat and Chitral Land Disputes Enquiry Commission was constituted. One of the tasks of the Commission was to bifurcate the private property and the official property of the Ex-Mehtar of Chitral.

It was further explained that property which belonged to the Mehtar in his official capacity was to vest in the government of the North West Frontier Province.

Unfortunately, it said, the mandate and capacity of the commission was such that it was not able to carry out a survey of the whole of Chitral, and instead ended up recommending that title of all remaining covered areas of Chitral be resolved later at the time of settlement.

To make up for the commission’s shortcomings, the government issued the 1975 notification pursuant to a special law called the Distribution of Property (Chitral) Regulation 1974.

“Until recently the government has never asserted its proprietary rights by virtue of the 1975 notification, but lately it has been according very encompassing definitions to undefined terms such as mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and river beds as used in the notification and claiming the same.

It was prayed in the petition that this has left the people of Chitral with no choice but to challenge the constitutionality of the 1975 notification.

The petitioners prayed the court to strike down the impugned parts of Serial No. 14, 16 and 18 of the Government of North West Frontier Province, Home and Tribal Affairs Department’s Notification No. 10/31-SOTA. II(HD)/73 dated 31st July 1975.

Also read: Meeting vows to resist occupation of private lands through vague notification

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