PESHAWAR: The people of Chitral have challenged in the Peshawar High Court (PHC) the 1975 notification which had declared all mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and riverbeds in Chitral to be the property of the provincial government.
The writ petition was filed by 100 people from Chitral including former MPA Ghulam Muhammad and Muhibullah.The petition was filed through Barrister Asad-ul-Mulk, challenging the government notification issued in 1975, which declares all mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and riverbeds in Chitral to be the property of the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government.
The Federation of Pakistan through Secretary Law and Justice, federal secretary Ministry of Human Rights, federal secretary Ministry of States and Frontier Regions, federal secretary Ministry of Climate Change, Province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through Chief Secretary, Inspector General of Police, Provincial Secretary Law, Parliamentary Affairs, Provincial Secretary of Forests, Environment and Wildlife, Senior Member Board of Revenue, Commissioner Malakand Division, Deputy Commissioner Upper Chitral, Deputy Commissioner Lower Chitral and Settlement Officer Upper and Lower Chitral were made parties in the petition.
About the facts of the case, it was explained in the 25-page writ petition that lately the notification has been invoked by the Settlement Office in Chitral to record over 95 percent of the covered area of the upper and lower Chitral as government property.
It was submitted before the court that for more than a year, the people of Chitral have been going from one office to another, pleading for the registry of their ancestral property in their name.
“The Settlement Office citing the 1975 notification has been turning down their applications. Less than 3 percent of the upper and lower Chitral consists of arable land.
If the 1975 notification is allowed to stand, the people of Chitral are at the risk of being deprived of their ancestral property and reduced to non-entities,” explained the petition. The petitioners stated that settlement in Chitral was in its final stage and that was why the people have decided to challenge the constitutionality of the 1975 notification.
It was explained that the districts of upper and lower Chitral previously formed the State of Chitral, which was a princely state in a subsidiary alliance with British India.
In 1947 the Westminster Parliament passed the Indian Independence Act, which provided for the setting up of two independent dominions from 15th August 1947, to be known as India and Pakistan.
Section 7 of the Act, it said, declared that the relationship of paramountcy between princely states and the British crown being non-transferrable would lapse with the creation of the two dominions and the Rules of Princely States would be at liberty to forge new alliances.
“His Highness Muzaffar-ul-Mulk, the Mehtar of Chitral, executed an Instrument of Accession with the Governor-General of Pakistan Quaid-e-Azam [Muhammad Ali Jinnah] which was formally accepted on 18th February 1948. Thus the State of Chitral acceded to Pakistan, but remained a Princely State till 1969, when the martial law regime of General Yahya Khan issued the Dir, Chitral and Swat (Administration) Regulation 1969 and merged the Frontier States of Dir, Chitral and Swat into Pakistan,” explained in the petition.
Following the abolition of the Frontier States, it said, a phenomenal amount of disputes concerning immovable property suddenly shot up.
To redress these disputes, the Dir, Swat and Chitral Land Disputes Enquiry Commission was constituted. One of the tasks of the commission was to bifurcate the private property and the official property of the former Mehtar of Chitral.
It was further explained that property which belonged to the Mehtar in his official capacity was to vest in the government of the North-West Frontier Province (now KP).
Unfortunately, it said, the mandate and capacity of the commission was such that it was not able to survey the whole of Chitral, and instead ended up recommending that title of all remaining covered areas of Chitral be resolved later at the time of settlement.
To make up for the commission’s shortcomings, the government issued the 1975 notification under a special law called the Distribution of Property (Chitral) Regulation 1974.
“Until recently the government has never asserted its proprietary rights under the 1975 notification, but lately it has been according to very encompassing definitions to undefined terms such as mountains, wastelands, jungles, pastures and river beds as used in the notification and claiming the same.
It was prayed in the petition that this has left the people of Chitral with no choice but to challenge the constitutionality of the 1975 notification.
The petitioners prayed the court to strike down the impugned parts of Serial No. 14, 16 and 18 of the Government of North-West Frontier Province, Home and Tribal Affairs Department’s Notification No. 10/31-SOTA. II (HD)/73 dated 31st July 1975.