Land acquisition laws in Pakistan

The writer is a social development and policy adviser, and a freelance columnist based in Islamabad.

Pakistan has always seen conflicts over land acquisition and resettlement planning during the construction phase of development projects. The conflicts stem from the fact that there is very little understanding of the legal obligations in the process of land acquisition and resettlement.

Pakistan also lacks the adequate expertise of social safeguard management and, barring a few instances, most of the land acquisition and resettlement planning is carried out through a piecemeal approach without proper engagement of stakeholders. In this article, I will try to explore the legal framework of land acquisition in Pakistan so that readers have basic information about legal protection in case of displacement or involuntary resettlement.

In Pakistan, the laws of land acquisition for development projects are based on the legal framework enacted during the colonial period. The land acquisition legislation in British India evolved from the Bengal Regulation 1 of 1824 which provided legal cover to obtain land and other immovable assets for the purpose of building physical infrastructure. The legislation helped the British government obtain land for roads, canals, and railways for speedy transportation of labor and raw material at a reasonable cost. The legislation was extended to the rest of British India in 1857 as a universal legal framework that replaced all previous laws enacted for the purpose of land acquisition and resettlement.

The law of land acquisition was further amended in 1861 and ultimately the Act of 1870 was promulgated where it was proclaimed that the new Act would address the inherent incompetence, corruption, and issue of unsatisfactory settlement. The Act of 1870 was repealed in 1894 and a new Act was enacted for the purpose of facilitating acquisition of private land by the government for public purposes. The Act of 1894 was much more elaborate than all previous laws, but it did not provide any opportunity to the landowners or the persons having an interest in land to object to the acquisition of land. Their objections were confined only to the amount of compensation and matters connected to it while the social and economic impacts of resettlement were not fully integrated in this Act.

To overcome the legal lacunas and to address the large-scale resentment, an amendment was made to the 1894 Act. The amendment was introduced in 1923 by adding Section 5A to the existing law of 1894. Under this newly added section, a provision was incorporated saying that any person related to the land or interested in land can file objections to the acquisition of the land within 30 days from the date of publication of the notification under Section 4(1). This newly added section also provided for additional legal protection to the person who has filed objections to the land acquisition. For instance, the person was given an opportunity not only to be heard but the opportunity of being heard was also to be provided by the collector to the person interested in the land.

By this amendment, the cardinal principle of Audi alteram partem was incorporated as a principle of natural justice into the processes of land acquisition under the 1894 Act. This cardinal principle of Audi alteram partem provided that no person should be judged without a proper hearing in which each party is given the fair opportunity and even keel to respond to the concerns or grievances with substantial evidence.

Thus, the amended LLA of 1894 is still in use in Pakistan as a universal governing framework for development projects. All public or private funded development projects with land acquisition and involuntary resettlement requirements have legal protection under the Land Acquisition Act 1894. The Act has some important sections which may be of interest to readers, in particular for those who are either engaged or being affected by development projects.

Section 4 of LLA 1894 makes it mandatory that a notification is published in the government’s gazette whenever it appears that land in a particular locality is needed for public purpose. This will allow the collector to arrange a survey of the land and submit a report to the commissioner or concerned authority no later than 60 days of the notification. The date of notification also serves as a cut-off date for determining the market value of the land which is likely to be acquired. It is also mandatory that before the entry of any person in the property of the occupier or the owner, at least seven days prior written notice will be served to the owner or the occupier of the property.

Under sections 5 and 5-A, a notification is published in the official gazette stating the district or other territorial division in which the land is situated. The notification also mentions the specific purpose for which the land is needed and its approximate area; the Collector serves the public notice for the land acquisition. This section of LAA also provides the opportunity for any concerned person to file a written objection (if any) to the collector to be heard against the land acquisition within 30 days after the issuance of the notification.

Under Section 6 of the Act, the declaration of intended acquisition is published in the official gazette duly signed by an authorized government official. This declaration has to be certified by the authorized officer with location details, approved area, and availability of the plan within six months of the publication of the notification under Section 5.

Under Section 9, the collector serves public notice of the land possession which is displayed at places of public visibility/convenience or near the land to be acquired. The notice includes particulars of the land, date, and time for the hearing/receiving written objections/claims duly signed by the party. Under Section 10, the concerned persons with a stake in the land will make a statement that every detail about the ownership, interest, proprietorship, and liabilities about the land have fully been disclosed. Under sections 11 and 23, land compensation and awards are made based on the market value at the time of the cut-off date. Fifteen percent additional cost over and above the market value of the land is paid to the displaced people as compulsory acquisition charges.

Then there are sections 17, 18 and 24 which deal with the urgency of land acquisition, special powers in case of urgency and dispute resolution through court in case a person does not accept the award.

It is interesting that, despite having a comprehensive land acquisition law in place, Pakistan does not have any law regarding involuntary resettlement caused by development projects. Pakistan, therefore, follows the resettlement policy of donors where applicable. The Asian Development Bank has the most comprehensive Resettlement Policy Framework among the leading donors like the IFC and the World Bank.

There are some other context-specific provincial regulations and policies as well, which were incorporated to complement the process of the Land Acquisition and Resettlement Plan (LARP) in varying contexts. For instance, the Affected Persons Ordinance 2001, the Punjab Land Acquisition Rules 1983, WAPDA Act 1958 and EPA’s National Resettlement Policy, 2002 – just to mention the key regulations.

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