MAHTHARLAM (Pajhwok): More than 35 acres of land allocated for a sport complex has been grabbed and houses illegally built on it in eastern Laghman province, Pajhwok Afghan News has reliably learnt.
Pajhwok has obtained documents that show the Physical Education and Sport Department has repeatedly asked the governor’s house for cooperation on reclaiming the land. However, it failed to receive a positive response.
How much land grabbed, by whom & why?
One paper sent to the governor’s office by the Physical Education and Sports Department indicates the land is located only 400 metres from the governor’s house. The total area of the land is 85, with houses built on 50 acres and the rest illegally occupied by powerful individuals.
The document indicates most of the usurpers are Afghan National Army (ANA) officials and local police bosses. This news agency has obtained a list of 13 grabbers, the area of land they have encroached on and their jobs. Most of them are ALP personnel and commanders.
One of them is Hazratuddin a police officer who has grabbed 1.5 acres. Jafar has usurped as much land and Haji Iqbal has unlawfully occupied six acres.
Badam Gul Multazim, the director of physical education and sport, confirmed sport facilities had been built on 50 acres and the remaining 35 acres had been seized by strongmen.
He told Pajhwok they had shared the issue with the governor’s house and other officials concerned several times. But no corrective action had been taken yet, he regretted.
Officials in Mehtharlam said they had allocated the land to the sport department. The property might have been grabbed due to negligence from the department concerned, he opined.
Mayor Eng. Nazifullah Alokozai remarked if the sports officials had not been negligent, they would have built the facilities well in time or raised the voice against grabbers.
Any action against grabbers?
The Laghman Physical Education and Sport Department has written several letters to the governor’s office, asking for reclaiming the land, but no action had been taken yet.
A memo (No. 153), sent by the department to governor’s house on June 15, 2019, says: “Letters No. 660 on Feb, 6, 2019, No. 104 on May 5, 2018, No. 891 on Feb. 3, 2018 and No. 544 on July 19, 2017 have been dispatched and they will be followed by more.”
The letter asked the governor’s office that half of the sport complex land been usurped. It also sought assistance from the governor’s office in reclaiming the land.
Another letter was sent to the provincial chief executive on December 22, 2019, but the department complained no remedial steps had been initiated so far.
Badam Gul, head of the sport department, said he had shared the issue with the officials concerned, both in writing and verbally, but to no avail.
Criticism over inaction
The provincial administration has come in for a lot of flak for having no plan to reclaim the grabbed land and its inability to file a formal complaint against the strongmen.
Mohammad Zahir Hussainkhel, the provincial council secretary, blamed the Physical Education and Sports Department for failing to raise the issue in time. He also hit out at the administration for failing to take action against the land-grabbers.
Khalid Garandai, a civil society activist, expressed concern at the increasing grabbing of state land around the governor’s house. He claimed other government properties had also been seized.
Although Pajhwok Afghan News tried a lot to approach for comments the land-grab commission head and Deputy Governor Shahzada Mazlumyar, it did not succeed.
The newly-appointed governor, Rahmatullah Yaarmal, was determined to retake grabbed lands as he had drawn up a plan in this regard, his spokesman said.
Asadullah Dawlatzai claimed hundreds of acres of government land had been reclaimed in the past and the usurpers referred to judicial organs. Recently, he insisted, effective steps had been taken address the problem.
Regarding the Physical Education and Sports department’s land, he said: “The governor has been working hard to wrest back all state lands in the province. Some measures will be taken against grabbers in near future.”
Demands of grabbers
The department’s land is located in the Nawabad area of the provincial capital, where plots have been allocated by the municipality. But now several houses have been constructed on it arbitrarily.
Sabz Mohammad, head of the local council, alleged mostly military personnel had constructed homes on the department’s land. Due to security concerns, the military personnel refuse to return to their districts.
About the homeowners, he said they would leave the area without any resistance — if given land elsewhere.
Punishment under law
Second, 3rd and fourth clauses of Article 96 of the land authority management say if the value of the grabbed land is between 300,000 afghanis and one million afs, the usurper will be sentenced to average imprisonment of up to two years.
If the price of the usurped land is between one million and five million afghanis, the average imprisonment is more than three years. In case the land is worth more than five million afghanis, the grabber will be imprisoned up to 10 years.
According to information, each home has cost of 500,000 afs and half an acre of land may account for 2.5 million afs in the area. Thus the grabbers may be handed average to long-term imprisonment.
Problems fuelled by land-grab
Information from the Physical Education and Sports Department reveals a world-class sports complex was planned in the area but construction work was delayed due to lack of funds. As a result, the land has been grabbed.
Multazim believed even if the Physical Education and Sports Directorate arranged funds to construct the complex, it would not be in a position to do so, because most of the land had been grabbed.
He expressed deep concerned over the possible seizure of more state properties in the area if the government did not launch construction work on the remaining 50 acres of land.
Some athletes in Laghman told Pajhwok they had been unable to undergo training before national and international competitions due to the lack of standard sports facilities in the province.
Ahmad Shah Sediqi, the Athletes’ Association head, said sports could prevent young people from slipping into drug addiction. He warned youth could face more challenges if the authorities did not address the issue on priority.
Samsor Maihan, an athlete, said he often missed national and international competitions because he did not receive training and the absence of a standard stadium in Laghman.
Physical training experts say special facilities and suitable places should be considered for exercises and sports, in a peaceful environment, they say, athletes can learn and perform well.
This report has been produced by Pajhwok and financially supported by UNDP and Denmark.