(Photo: Reuters / Adrees Latif)
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – A large number of Christians living in the southern belt of Pakistan’s Punjab province who lost their homes in last year’s floods remain homeless despite a scheme by the Punjab government to allocate land to residents in the area, according to Christian residents.
Hameed Masih, a resident of Kot Addu tehsil in Muzaffargarh district, says the provincial government has not set a quota for members of minority communities left homeless by the devastating floods. The government has launched four schemes in Kot Addu under which around 435 plots of 5-marlas (151 square yards) each are to be distributed among people who lost their property in the floods. Several people were allotted land last month and so far, no minority member has been given land.
“Christians in this area are not rich people. They lost their houses and lands in the floods and should have been given five percent quota in the scheme. Flood victims could have been easily accommodated, but the quota system has not been followed because of which no minority member has been allotted land,” said Hameed. “The aid distribution was fair. There were some problems in the beginning but then minority members protested and the issue was resolved.”
Hameed said Christian families in his village are receiving monthly stipends through Watan Cards.
“The list of homeless people was prepared by local patwaris (land revenue officers) who were not fair in doing their job,” said another Christian.
Sarwar Masih said he does not have property and does menial work for a living, but his name was not included in the list by the patwari.
“Patwaris had to refer our names to higher authorities, but the names of those who could not make them ‘happy’ were not included in the list. My name was not in the list so I had no hope of getting land, though being homeless I fulfill the criteria,” he said.
The areas where plots have been allotted include Gurmani Sharki, Jandeer Dueaja, Chak 568 and Chowk Sarwar Shaheed. There are some 8,500 registered voters of minorities, mostly Christians and Hindus, in the area. The population of minorities in these areas is said to be around 18,000.
“Several people, who have been allotted plots under this scheme, already have plenty of resources and land, while those who do not have property have been ignored,” said Wasim, a Christian and minorities coordinator for Kot Addu. There is one person who owns 22 acres of agricultural land, but has been allotted land under the scheme, he added.
Napoleon Qayyum, a minority rights activist and leader of the Minorities Wing of the Pakistan People’s Party, said that under the constitution, minorities should be given five percent quota in all schemes launched by the government, adding that the Punjab government should adhere to that.
Officials from the local administration responded to the allegations by saying they did not directly have anything to do with flood rehabilitation, adding that plots were allotted to homeless people through a lucky draw.
Chaudhry Ehsanul Haq Nolatia, a local MPA from Kot Addu said: “A committee was formed to look into the allotment. It is true that the government did not allocate any special quota for minorities in the scheme, but the plots were distributed through a draw.” However, he says that he will take up this issue in the Punjab Assembly.
About 200,000 Christians living in Punjab province were affected by last year’s massive floods. They had at that time claimed they were being treated as second-class citizens as they often received little assistance or were excluded altogether. Citing unnamed aid workers, Fides, the Vatican's news agency, reported that the official aid was being delivered by "government officials sympathetic to Islamic fundamentalism or by Muslim relief organizations."