An important and necessary exercise to conduct a survey and form a cadastral map of state land across three major cities of the country has been completed and the findings reveal extensive encroachment worth a whopping Rs 5.6 trillion approximately. That government owned land is encroached comes as no surprise as the informal and outdated decades-old nature of land record keeping in Pakistan makes the illegal practice easy enough. However, the astronomical amount that has been estimated in only the first phase of the survey shows just how extensive and deep-rooted the problem really is. It goes to the credit of the PTI government that it has taken an initiative to formalize land records through use of technology to not only establish proper ownership and value of land, but also identify and highlight discrepancies and illegal allotments and act against those responsible. Prime Minister Imran Khan has promised as much but it remains to be seen how quickly, efficiently and seriously that action is take and more importantly against whom.
There is no denying the fact, as put by the PM himself, that such land-grabbing is not possible without political influence, which would mean that further investigations will bring forward names of politicians who have facilitated and benefited from encroaching land at a cost to the state. Unfortunately, the accountability process that has so far been witnessed under the PTI regime has been obviously partisan, primarily targeted at opposition parties with hardly any meaningful action taken against members of the PTI and its allied parties. Not only has this deliberately disproportionate approach to addressing corruption discredited institutions such as the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), it has all but eliminated the perception that the PTI is the ‘anti-corruption’ party, an agenda that it thrived on during its election campaign. The opportunity to act against the ‘land mafia’ is therefore a good opportunity for the government to reinstate the image of a party committed to weeding out corruption from the country. However, if it continues down the same road, turning a blind eye towards its own people who are more than likely to be named in the scandal, it will be unable to establish much-needed impartiality in the accountability process.