October Issue 2009
Taking an Informed Decision
The issue of the leasing of agricultural land, mainly from the Punjab and Sindh, to certain Arab countries has been the topic of discussion in the media. According to media reports, the federal government is finalising the terms and conditions of the lease with different Arab countries without taking the concerned stakeholders into confidence.
The Minister of Agriculture Punjab, Malik Ahmad Ali Aulakh, admitted that in 2008, a meeting was held in Islamabad with the officials of the concerned departments to finalise the details of an overall policy in this regard. “During the meeting, the names of different countries who were interested in obtaining land for agricultural purposes in Pakistan was discussed,” said Aulakh. He added that the Punjab government hasn’t been taken into confidence and is still waiting to hear the latest on the issue. Meanwhile, the federal government informed the Lahore High Court that they have not leased out a single acre of land to a foreign country.
According to sources, Arab countries are interested in obtaining land in the Cholistan desert. The minister confirmed the reports and also added that a few hundred acres of land in Cholistan had already been leased out to two different Arab countries by previous governments. “As far as the Punjab is concerned, no terms and conditions have been finalised on the land-leasing front. We want to take all stakeholders on board to form a policy that is transparent and acceptable to all,” he remarked.
The minister said he was willing to sell land in the Cholistan desert only after conferring with all concerned parties. “It’s true that there is no irrigation water available in most parts of the desert while the underground water is also unsafe to use for irrigation. And out of the six million acres of land in Cholistan, five percent has sweet underground water. Even so, we are not ready to give away this land without taking the stakeholders into confidence.”
At the same time, according to Aulakh, a committee has been formed in the Punjab to identify land in Cholistan that can be leased out. “If somebody is interested, we can offer them land in Cholistan as most of the land there is uncultivable. However, the deal will be made on terms and conditions suitable to the people of Cholistan as well as to the people of Pakistan,” he said. However, all members of the Punjab Assembly from Cholistan who were part of that committee expressed their strong concern over leasing land to other countries. Aulakh has also spoken to the Punjab Board of Revenue, which is responsible for dealing with the federal government on land-related issues. “They have ensured me that so far no land in the Punjab is being leased out,” said Aulakh. He also stressed that if land in the Punjab were to be leased out to foreign countries, the process will have to be transparent. “If the federal government strikes a deal on the ridiculous terms and conditions that are being discussed in the media these days, then the Punjab government will not accept them,” he concluded.
This sidebar appears as part of a larger article: Giving Away the Family Silver by Najma Sadeque