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Settlement of Tarbela Dam affectees claims

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Independent Consultant was appointed on the recommendation of World Bank to undertake the survey and define a clear action programme to deal with the outstanding claims

Special Correspondent, Islamabad
July 26 - August 1, 1999

Tarbela Dam is constructed on River Indus in the North West Frontier Province at a distance of about 70 kilometers from the capital Islamabad. It is a multipurpose earth-fill dam constructed as part of the Indus Water Replacement Works. The construction of the dam was completed in 1974. It has a reservoir area of about 260 square kilometers and about 82,000 acres land was acquired for its construction. The large reservoir of the dam submerged 135 villages, which resulted in displacement of a population of about 96,000 people. For the land and built-up property acquired under the Land Acquisition Act of 1984, a cash compensation of Rs 469.65 million was paid to the affectees. In the absence of a national policy, resettlement concerns of the affectees of Tarbela Dam were addressed on ad hoc basis.

In a meeting held on May 1967 under the chairmanship of the then President of Pakistan, it was decided inter alia that owners of agricultural land possessing a minimum half acre of irrigated or two acres of barani land under cultivation in the affected areas should be given the option to purchase agricultural land in the old colonies of the Punjab and Barrage areas of Sindh. The minimum area to be offered will not be less than 12 acres in colony areas and 16 acres in Barrage areas depending on the quality of land. Land offered in Colony areas should be priced on the basis of prevailing prices during 12 months preceding May 1967. In the Barrage areas also the price should be similarly fixed by the Board of Revenue and a concession of Rs 100 per acre should be made. In the Colony area, the maximum acreage to be offered to a land owner, should be 50 acres while in the Barrage areas there should be no size restriction.

For those affectees who did not qualify for grant of agricultural land, it was decided to develop village sites along the periphery of the reservoir and elsewhere in Hazara district in consultation with the affected people. The plots in these settlements were sold to the affected people willing to establish their new houses in these areas. It was also decided to draw up proper investment schemes to make profitable use of the huge amount of compensation money that would be paid to the displaced persons. Large amount should be issued in bonds and securities.

The immensity and complexities of the problems arising from the acquisition of such large tracts of land and the evacuation and resettlement of such a large population prompted the government to create a separate organization known as the Tarbela Dam Resettlement Organization, headed by a separate Project Director. This organization, set up on the pattern of the one at Mangla, was responsible for the assessment, acquisition and payment of compensation for the properties thus affected and acquired: and the evacuation and resettlement of the vast population. The Tarbela Dam Resettlement Organization functioned with a modicum of efficiency not unexpected of a bureaucratic organization of such temporary nature. With the passage of time the organization became redundant and was formally closed on June 30, 1985. It is not suggested that all matters pertaining to resettlement had been resolved.

For the resettlement of Tarbela Dam affectees, Government had allocated 60,000 acres of land, 30,000 acres each in the Punjab and Sindh. Accordingly 30,000 acres of land in the Punjab was given to 2,400 affectees whereas in Sindh only 10,667 acres could be given to 667 affectees. Out of the 667, it is reported that 170 have not received possession and have asked for alternate land. Thereafter, the Government of Sindh declined to give the remaining 19,,333 acres of land with the result a number of affectees, who had exercised option and fulfilled the laid down conditions, could not get alternate land. At the same time it needs to be stated that at that point of time there were many affectees who preferred to take cash compensation rather than accept alternate land offered by the government.

During the preparations for the Ghazi Barotha Hydro Power Project, some of the NGOs agitated against inadequate compensation and unsatisfactory resettlement of the Tarbela Dam displaced persons. Taking notice of the hue and cry the World Bank persuaded the Government of Pakistan to resolve outstanding resettlement issues pertaining to Tarbela Dam and accordingly in the loan agreement dated March 7, 1996 for the Ghazi Barotha a condition was inserted.

In pursuance of the above commitment an Independent Consultant was appointed by WAPDA on the recommendation of the World Bank to undertake the survey and define a clear action programme to deal with the outstanding claims. On June 12, 1996 WAPDA submitted to the bank this survey and action plan and on June 24, 1996 Government of Pakistan confirmed that this report constituted "our survey and includes action plan for the purpose of section 6.01 of the loan agreement." The Independent Consultant's report envisaged apart from other recommendations involving finances, a payment of cash compensation of Rs 1.668 billion in lieu of alternate land to which the Tarbela Dam affectees were entitled. By January 1997 Ministry of Water and Power began to have second thought about the Consultant's report. The Ministry felt that all-legitimate compensations for land had already been made and that, there was no need to reopen the issue. The Economic Coordination Committee of the cabinet approved Ministry of water and Power's proposals to ignore the report of the Consultants and decided that affectees should be free to go to the court for redressal of their legitimate grievance.

The bank expressed concern at this deviation of GOP from its contracted obligation and commitment and refused to accommodate GOP's request for further help to the GBHP. In June 1997, therefore, Ministry of Water and Power proposed to set up a Tribunal to settle the issues of the Tarbela dam affectees stating that the Bank mission were inclined to support this approach. The World Bank, however, again emphasized that the Independent Consultant's report and action plan serves as the basis of declaring the loan effective and any intention on the part of GOP to substantially revise, reverse or reject that action plan could lead the Bank to consider suspension of loan disbursements.

The Economic Coordination Committee of the Cabinet, on July 1, 1997, agreed to the constitution of a Commission under the chairmanship of a retired judge of High Court and two experts to settle this issue. Ministry of water and Power was to draw the Terms of Reference and the Commission was required to submit its report within four months time. The World Bank expressed reservation on the Terms of Reference. The ECC on November 2, 1997 decided that the Terms of Reference of the proposed Commission may be revised in such a way that it should limit itself to implement the action plan agreed with the World Bank in a manner designed to eliminate possibilities of fraud. Moreover, it should be expanded to include one or more representatives of local NGOs. The Terms of Reference were accordingly revised in consultation with the World Bank. Thereafter the Ministry of Water and Power issued a notification on April 23, 1996 appointing a six-member Commission under the chairmanship of Mr. Justice CA Rehman. The Commission could not proceed with its work for certain reasons and was reconstituted on July 28, 1998. The Commission commenced its work on August 1, 1998.

Commission's recommendations

On completion of its tenure, the Commission has submitted its recommendations with a view to settle the claims of the affectees of the Tarbela Dam. The recommendations are: There are only 40 affectees who had been paid cash compensation for purchasing alternate land. Since land was not made available they had subsequently withdrawn their compensation amount. These persons, in Commission's view, deserve grant of alternate land at the original cost of Rs 700 per acre as recommended by Independent Consultant. The remaining 1,704 eligible affectees, 1,319 belonging to settled area and 385 belonging to Kala Dhaka tribal area, may be provided 12 acres of state land at a price to be determined by mutual consultation between the Federal and provincial governments. The cost of land should be payable in installments in twenty years as laid down in the original resettlement scheme. So far as Nawab of Amb is concerned, no special dispensation can be suggested. He will be entitled to land compensation like any other affectee.

The number of applications for residential plots received from settled areas and verified by Ghazi Barotha Taraqqiati Idara (GBTI) comes to 6,827. Out of these, 3,279 meet the declared criteria and have been declared correct. From tribal area of Kala Dhaka out of 1,280 affectees, 173 have already been settled in New Darband township, Kangra Colony etc. Out of the remaining number only 666 affectees have been found eligible by the provincial authorities. Already, there are 441 developed plots in New Darband Township Extension Scheme. Hence a shortage of 225 plots has to be made up. The Chief Minister of NWFP, on 26th February, 1996, approved development of a housing scheme in the vicinity of New Darband Township Extension Scheme at a meager cost of Rs 4 million. The Commission recommends that an amount of Rs 10 million be provided to the Government of NWFP for executing the proposed scheme. The sale proceeds from the existing 441 plots in New Darband Township Extension Scheme may be retained by the Government of NWFP and utilized for creation of new plots.

The maintenance of buildings, roads, water supply etc is poor by any standards. There is a need to improve civic amenities including education, health and environment. It is recommended that adequate funds may be earmarked for this purpose on sustainable basis. There are twenty-seven cases under litigation in various courts between the affectees and WAPDA. The cases where WAPDA has gone in appeal (as a matter of routine) against the judgment of the High Court may be reviewed by the Ministry of Law and Justice with a view to abate proceedings.