Kashmiri refugees denied property ownership rights in Pakistan

7 April 2008
The Daily Times
Irfan Ghauri

ISLAMABAD: Dozens of Kashmiri refugee families have been seeking permanent ownership of the property they were allotted when the migrated to Pakistan in 1947, Daily Times has learnt. According to official records of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB), 1,081 Kashmiri families were allotted property in different districts of the country in 1959 under Scheme 7. Some families were allotted land in “Hindu gaddis'- the land adjacent and dedicated to temples – on temporary basis. As a result of long litigations, a law was enacted in 1975, allowing permanent ownership of property to Kashmiri families after submission of proscribed fees with the national exchequer in 1977-78. It has been learnt that the refugees were denied ownership rights despite enactment of the new law because occupants of the property had refused to vacate it. The refugees filed property claims in courts and occupants of the property too filed counter-claims in 1983, arguing that they had a right to own the property since they had been residing in it for decades. Some of these occupants were paying rent to refugee families but they stopped doing so after filing counter-claims in courts. The scuffling proved an excellent opportunity for officials of ETPB and the Auquaf Department to manipulate the situation and extract money from both disputing parties. The latest decision on the issue came on November 19, 2003 from Lahore High Court, Rawalpindi Bench, which directed the ETPB to clear the ownership rights within two months and return the property to its genuine owners. After much delay, ETPB said in 2005 that no party could claim permanent ownership of the property because of complexity of the issue. Then the secretary for minorities’ affairs also directed the ETPB chairman to make a “prudent decision” on the case so that the property owners were not discriminated against. The issue is still pending with the ETPB. “Auqaf Department is using the income generated from the disputed property,” Nazakat, decedent of a refugee family, told Daily Times, adding that most refugees, who were allotted the property, had died since the creation of Pakistan but the matter had not been settled.