Forest Department is trying to register the land under their name without paying compensation, alleged owners
Supposed land owners in four upazilas of Panchagarh have been claiming the land that the Forest Department acquired in 1967.
Revisional Survey (RS Khatiyan) in Panchagarh is underway, which began in 2008, after the last one in 1962. The Forest Department is trying to register the land under their name without paying any compensation, alleged the owners.
The owners of the disputable land have said no compensation was paid to them when the land was acquired, which is why it should be illegal to register the lands under the name of the Forest Department in RS survey.
Sources said, the Pakistan Government, in 1963, issued the acquisition of 5602.73 acres of land in Sadar, Tetulia, Boda and Debiganj upazila to the Forest Department for a 100 years. This is allowed according to the Private Forest Ordinance 1959.
Later within 1967, gazette notification was published, which formally handed over the land to the Forest Department and instructed to declare it as Reserved Forest after compensating the owners.
However, the current owners say, their ancestors were not compensated for their land. Moreover, no legal notice was served to the former owners when the land was acquired in 1967.
The Private Forest Ordinance 1959 does not allow the Forest Department to register the acquired land in the government's name unless the land price is paid to the owners.
It is legally required that the compensation for the acquired land is claimed within four months after the publishing of the gazette notification, but the former owners had failed to do that at that time.
In their defense, the current owners have said their ancestors were not informed of how and when to claim the land at the time of the acquisition under the Pakistan government.
If compensation for the land is not paid to the current owners or the land is not registered in their name in the RS survey, owners fear that there will be legal complications which could last years to solve the issue.
Land owners said hundreds of criminal and civil cases were filed by the Forest Department against them, one of such allegations is the cutting down of trees. The ongoing cases in court is causing much hassle for the owners.
Some land owners of the four upazilas are: Safiar Rahman Choudhury, Ismail Hossain, Nurul Amin, Md Khorshed Alam, Md Tozammel Hossain Khoka, Kushum Kumar Pradhan all from Debiganj upazila and Md Waliul Islam Montu from Boda upazila.
Md Khorshed Alam said: "(Some of the) Land that was commissioned to the Forest Department is owned by my ancestors, as the record is present in the SA (Settlement Attestation) Khatiyan."
The SA survey was prepared under State Acquisition and Tenancy Act 1950, which is not based on field survey. SA Khatiyan was made from the information given by the former landlords(Zamindar). The government sources say it is not entirely authentic.
Khorshed added: "We had been paying the taxes for our land up to the year 1986. When the RS survey began, we requested the government to accept our due taxes for the previous years and register the lands in our name, but our request was not heard."
Fayekuzzaman Choudhury, Former director of the Land Record and Survey Department, said he had issued a letter to the Dinajpur zonal Settlement Officer a year ago to register the ownership of land to people whose names are documented in the SA survey, and who had been paying taxes for their land.
Fayekuzzaman added that the Forest Department is not allowing the Land Record and Survey department to record the disputable lands in four upazilas of Panchagarh in the name of any person for a long time. Dinajpur zonal Settlement Officer Md Shamsul Azam voiced a similar statement.
Sources said, to solve the land disputes between people claiming and the Forest Department, the latter introduced Forest Settlement Court in 1999. The deputy commissioner of Panchagarh at that time was given the authority of settlement officer, who could give the verdict regarding the case.
On March 28, 2001, the settlement officer, in his verdict, ordered the Forest Department to register the acquired land in the name of the owners,or to declare the land as Reserve Forest after compensating the owners with the land price and the money that was paid for years as tax after the land acquisition by the Forest Department.
However, land owners said even after 18 years, the decision of the settlement court is yet to be implemented.
The land owners alleged that no trees have been planted yet by the Forest Department after its acquisition in 1967, rather some 'corrupt' officials in the Forest Department have been leasing the land to local influential people.
A land owner, Md Waliul Islam Montu, said: "The Forest Department is trying to register the disputable land under their ownership as per the section 6 of The Forest Act 1927, but we demand of registering the land as per the verdict that was awarded by the Forest Settlement Court in 2001."
According to paragraph (c) of section 6 of The Forest Act 1927, the compensation for the acquired land shall be claimed by the former owner through a written statement specifying the claimed portion. This shall be done within four months after the gazette notification is published.
Md Abdur Rahman, a Forest Department official in Dinajpur could not be reached for comment while contacted over the phone.