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Land Mafia Bosses: Will NAB Expand Its Net?

Will NAB now expand its net to also include the powerful individuals who control the racket, or will it confine its actions to the lower tiers only?

FOR the land mafia in Sindh, whose tentacles reach all the way up to the highest echelons of power, this is unfamiliar territory — a reckoning of sorts, even though it touches only the tip of the iceberg. According to a statement by NAB on Thursday, the anti-corruption body has had relevant authorities cancel the fraudulent allotment of 10,000 acres of state land in Jamshoro district on the basis of what it termed “irrefutable evidence”. The case involves alleged collusion of provincial revenue officials with real estate developers in order to enable the latter to acquire prime real estate — worth an estimated Rs75bn (almost $700m) — along Superhighway for a fraction of its value. Three officials were arrested last month, accused of tampering with the official record to facilitate the land-grab. According to the statement, a reference will be filed against them after the investigation is completed. A few days ago, NAB also launched a probe into three projects of Bahria Town — including its humongous gated community in Karachi — upon directions from the Supreme Court, which found massive irregularities in the acquisition of land for the schemes.

It is for good reason the court in November 2011, during a suo motu case hearing about lawlessness in Karachi, ordered a freeze on mutation or allotment of government land across Sindh: one of the principal drivers of crime and violence in the country’s largest city is land. It is the font of much of the corruption in the provincial government and bureaucracy; often, even what may seem like political violence stems from disputes over land. That the revenue officials referred to in NAB’s statement on Thursday allegedly went to the extent of record tampering in order to circumvent the apex court’s directives, offers a glimpse into the sordid world of wheeling and dealing over prime real estate in Karachi and its surroundings. Here, regulations pertaining to disposal and use of land have long been flouted with impunity. Inside umpteenth files in bureaucratic offices can be found reams of bogus permits, false affidavits claiming land title, etc — if the anti-corruption body cares to look. While it is encouraging that some light has at last been shone on this cesspool, NAB had until now been curiously lackadaisical about moving against the land mafia. Will it now expand its net to also include the powerful individuals who control the racket, or will it confine its actions to the lower tiers only?

Dawn Editorial, May 28th, 2018

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