By Zar Alam Khan
CHITRAL, April 3: Chitral’s poorly managed and guarded land record has become a soft target for fraudsters to tamper with. And shockingly, many people have already been deprived of their land on the record without even their knowledge.
Though the Patwari system has not yet been put in force, since the state era Chitral’s land record is maintained at the central Misal Khana (record room) in the Chitral town.
The Misal Khana has the land record dating back to the 17th century. There are also land documents prepared during the time of the State Council. When Chitral was merged into Pakistan, the accession agreement gave protection to all the land record and decisions made during the state era.
Residents of different villages and officials in the revenue and the district administration told ChitralToday that the first case of a major tampering with the land record came into light in 2010 when it was revealed that some elements had hired a Persian speaking Afghan national and planted him in the archive library in Chitral to tamper with the land record which was mostly in the Persian language. This Afghan man was used to get certain documents related to land rewritten. “Suppose, you owned a 50 acres irrigated or un-irrigated land in your village or somewhere else and there was the Sanad of that land in the name of your forefather. This group got the Sanad rewritten in the same Persian language but after tampering with the name of the owner in someone else’s name,” said a lawyer who is pleading one such case in Chitral town.
Last year, scores of officials of the revenue department were suspended when one of the affected land owners moved a court against the tampering of his land record.
Zar Muhammad, son of Zar Safi Khan, a resident of Miragram No 2 in the Yarkhun valley, remained embroiled in a land dispute for about seven years during which he had to face the shock of his life when his opponents produced in the court records showing his property in their name.
In an interaction with ChitralToday, Khan narrated how his opponents tried to dislodge him from his land by tactfully tampering with the record and preparing fake documents.
According to Khan, Yor Mast Ali, son of Huzoor Ali, a member of his tribe, owned 28 jireeb of agricultural land in Miragram No 2. Yor Mast never married and died issueless in 1990. He had no close relatives like cousins except four sisters who were married off in other villages long before his death. Soon after the death of Yor Mast, his land and house came under the possession of Asfandyar Khan, one of his distant relatives.
Things passed on smoothly till 2005 when Asfandyar and his relatives and neighbours ran into a dispute over a small road passing by his home. The relatives took the matter seriously and filed a case through Hakim Ali Advocate with the civil court in Booni claiming that Asfandyar had taken possession of Yor Mast’s land illegally and the property should be distributed among all the relatives equally. Asfandyar hired Siraj Ali Khan of Khuz as his lawyer and after a few years’ litigation the court decided in favour of Khan and his relatives. Asfandyar through the same lawyer filed an appeal with the district sessions court of Chitral but the verdict also came against him. Later, Asfandyar moved the Peshawar High Court (PHC) where his lawyer Mir Ghulab Khan contended that the Chitral courts without checking the land record and other documents had given a one-sided verdict against his client (Asfandyar). So the high court sent back the case to Chitral with the direction that the documents and other record should be revisited.
When the district and sessions court in Chitral took up the case again on the direction of the PHC, Asfandyar and his lawyer Siraj Ali Khan came up armed with some suspicious documents.
According to one of the documents, there was a dispute about the same land back in 1960s. In reality, there had been none. The documents stated that in 1964 the then tehsiladar Chitral, Mr Faramooz, directed Ahmed Baig, the naib tehsildar of Lotkoh, to go to Miragram No 2 and hold an inquiry about the ownership of the land. According to the documents, Ahmed Baig went to Miragram No 2 and came back and submitted a report to Faramooz tehsildar stating that he investigated the case after interviewing the elites of the area and found that Yor Mast Ali owned no land in the village of Miragram No 2. The report of Ahmed Baig tehsildar mentioned witnesses none of whom are alive now. This investigation report had been correlated with the original land record maintained at the revenue department’s Booni office by deleting the name of a land owner at serial No 120.
But the documents prepared on August 3, 1964, based on the investigation of Ahmed Baig were fake. Khan and his relatives contested the veracity of the documents and went to Peshawar and obtained the appointment letter of Ahmed Baig from the department concerned. The appointment letter revealed that as claimed by the fake document Ahmed Baig had not been appointed as naib tehsildar in 1964. His appointment letter obtained from Peshawar showed that he was appointed as the naib tehsildar on June 30, 1965, at a salary of 85 rupees per month with Rs30 as horse (travel) allowance.
When Khan and others approached Mr Ghafar Khan, the then district revenue officer Chitral, on April 20, 2012, he ordered Wasil Khan, the DDO Mastuj, to hold an inquiry into the alleged tampering of file No 120 and report back. But instead of going ahead with the investigation Khan and relatives were offered compromise under which they got the land but dropped further proceedings against the revenue officials and others involved in tampering with the file and preparing fake documents.
Repeated visits to the revenue offices both in Chitral and Mastuj led to nothing as Mr Ghafar on one pretext or the other wrapped the matter under the carpet.
When ChitralToday contacted Mr Ghafar, he admitted that he had ordered an inquiry into the allegation by Khan. However, he said on December 31, 2012, since the old magistracy system was restored in Chital he was no more the DRO and as a result did not know what happened to the investigation.
Other officials in the former DRO office also passed on the buck to each other and said they did not know anything about the matter which was reported to the former DRO office. They said if the complainant approached them, they would certainly ‘help’ him.