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November 20, 2019

Rule of Patwaris in Punjab

Top Story

November 20, 2019

ISLAMABAD: The politicisation of bureaucracy in Punjab is at its worse and there is no security of tenure for any official with the only exception of Patwaris - the lowest tier in the revenue department - who continue to dictate their choice postings.

There have been hundreds of premature transfers of provincial secretaries, additional secretaries, commissioners, deputy commissioners, regional and district police officers etc. during the last 15 months in violation of Supreme Court’s ruling in Anita Turab case. However, when it comes to transferring a Patwari, the matter becomes extraordinary serious and really sensitive.

Patwari is a land clerk who is responsible for maintenance and upkeep of village land record. He is the lowest government functionary in rural areas. Used to be called “village officer” by British, Patwaris are really influential not only because they historically serve as eyes and ears of government at grassroots level but they are also the custodians of land record, which make them important to politicians/rulers, landlords and land developers etc. Sources in the bureaucracy complain that there is no protection of tenure for government servants in Punjab and violation of Anita Turab case has become a norm but Patwaris remains the most powerful. Changing a provincial secretary or even chief secretary is not as challenging as is the transfer of a Patwari. The Patwaris have been influential even in the past but presently, they appeared to have acquired more influence like never before taking advantage of the weak governance of the province.

A source pointed out that during the initial few months of the PTI government, the deputy commissioners of Chakwal and Rajanpur had complained of having been pressurised by PTI MNAs to get their favourite revenue officials (Patwaris) transferred to their choice circles. But instead of being protected from political interference, inquiry was ordered against the deputy commissioners. “At the very early stage of this government it sent a message to all and sundry in the province that Patwaris must not be transferred against their will, otherwise the transferring authority would find itself in serious trouble,” the official source said.

According to an official in the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, Lahore, the Deputy Commissioner Islamabad was made to reverse transfer order of a Patwari after a federal minister from Pindi Division protested and objected over the Patwari’s transfer. Several months back The News reported a case of a lady assistant commissioner in Rahim Yar Khan who had transferred over three dozen Patwaris soon to realise that her action had made her life immensely difficult. The transfer order was issued on 27th August, 2018. On the very next day, the lady AC started facing the pressure, both from outsiders and within the bureaucracy. Not only her own DC asked her to undo the transfer orders of two Patwaris, but one of the Patwaris who was transferred, came to her with a threat that he would be transferred back and would thus not join the new assignment. The Patwari was proved right. The very next day the deputy commissioner cancelled her AC’s order and thus withdrew all the transfer orders of Patwari. Later the DC issued a direction to all his subordinate ACs that no posting/transfer of the staff posted in the sub-divisions will be ordered in future without prior approval from his office. Following pressure from all sides, the lady applied for casual leave, stating that she was directed to vacate her accommodation room at a Rest House the same day. The AC wrote a detailed explanation, addressed to her DC and copied to other seniors, reflecting how her life was made difficult after she had transferred the Patwaris.

A Deputy Commissioner, posted in a Punjab district, confided to The News that there is an unwritten rule being followed in the entire province: don’t touch the Patwaris. Another assistant commissioner confided that he was transferred from his previous position only because he had changed a Patwari. The Punjab government sources are of the view that the decades old distortions and politicisation can’t be corrected in couple of years’. These sources said that the PTI intends to reform the system and depoliticise the bureaucracy but it requires change in attitude of the society that will take some time. A government source said the transfers of Patwaris are stopped to ensure effective monitoring and avoid unjust transfers.

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