Army misusing Cholistan land, Punjab Assembly told

LAHORE - In what could be described a rare show of courage on the Assembly floor, the Punjab government on Monday admitted that a major part of army-controlled exercise area in Cholistan was being used for agriculture purposes by stealing water from the Abbasia Canal.
“I cannot tell a lie on the floor of the House and admit that Cholistan land under the control of Karachi Core is a no-go area for Punjab government to check water theft there,” Parliamentary Secretary for Irrigation department, Ch Khalid Mehmood Jajja told Punjab Assembly in response to a question by Mian Muhammad Aslam of PML-N, who wanted to know if the government had taken any action against water thieves in Cholistan.
Jajja further told the House that one hundred thousand acres of land under the control of Pakistan Army has been sub-let to contractors at the rate of Rs40,000 to Rs50,000 per acre. “They are stealing water from Abbasia Canal by making cuts into it, and the Punjab government is helpless before these outlaws,” he deplored, adding that three SDOs of his department had to face action on complaints of tail-enders who were facing shortage of water.
Sharing more details with The Nation after the Assembly session, Jajja said that a vast tract of land in Cholistan has been allotted to the army for military exercises. “It is called exercise area but most part of it has been converted into agriculture land as thousands of acres have been allotted to army officers and private contractors for agriculture purposes. Using excavators, they have also dug out small canals, called minors, from the main Abbasia canal without permission from the irrigation department,” the parliamentary secretary for irrigation told this scribe.
He further stated that due to presence of these illegal canals, water was not reaching the tail-enders who were having trouble irrigating their crops. “The matter is into the notice of higher ranks of Pakistan Army but the situation remains unchanged since years,” he added.
“When the Irrigation secretary tried to enter the area to get firsthand knowledge of the situation, armed men surrounded his vehicle and did not let him enter ‘their’ territory”, he told this scribe, adding that under the exiting circumstances no officer of irrigation department wanted to get posted there.
It has been learnt that after the session was over, Khalid Mehmood had to face music for speaking truth in the Punjab Assembly. Many of his colleagues including the Assembly secretary later told him that he should have observed caution while speaking on such a sensitive issue.
Meanwhile, the Assembly approved an amendment into the Local Government Act whereby the government has been authorised to alter the limits of an electoral constituency with concurrence of the Election Commission. The government, however, will not do so after the announcement of election schedule.
The House also took up the issue of molestation and murder of a minor boy in a city mosque the other day as legislators called for strict legislation to prevent such crime in future. Speaking on a point of order, Sheikh Alauddin of PML-N said that government was in the habit of wrapping up such issues because of religious sensitivities unmindful of the implications. He suggested that government should install cameras in mosques and madrassas to protect the children.
Waqas Mokkal of PML-Q pleaded that it should be made mandatory for every prayer leader and Moazzin to seek a certificate of registration from the government.
Faiza Malik of PPP took the floor to pay tributes to PPP founder and former Prime Minister ZA Bhutto for his national services, on the eve of his 87th birthday.

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