The caretaker Sindh government has approved the allocation of over 52,000 acres of state land for corporate agriculture farming, reveal official documents.
Last week, the interim Sindh government gave the final go-ahead to allot 52,713 acres of state land for the project. Of which, 28,000 land will be handed over in Khairpur, 10,000 in Mithi, 9,305 in Dadu, 3,408 in Sujawal, 1,000 acres in Thatta and 1,000 in Badin.
The land is being granted under the umbrella of the Special Investment Facilitation Council (SIFC), a top civil-military body that was set up in June to attract foreign investments in the country.
Earlier this year, the chief secretary of Sindh had directed the provincial Land Utilization Department and the Board of Revenue to report back on the availability of “sufficient state land” in the province, which “can be leased out and utilised for corporate agriculture farming”, state documents seen by Geo News.
The documents even recommend that the land be leased out to the Pakistan army, insisting that the latter had a “well-trained manpower” for the job.
To ease and regulate the grant of land, the Sindh government has also notified a Statement of Conditions under the British-era law, the Colonization of Government Lands Act 1912.
As per the Statement of Conditions, the government-owned land will be leased out through an open auction for 20 years to a person or an entity. The lessee will then use it for agriculture research, farming, import substitution, livestock research, etc.
The Sindh government will be entitled to 33% of the profits earned from this project.
While the Statement of Conditions restricts federal and provincial government departments from taking part in the open auction, it allows private companies to bid for the land.
The agenda of a Sindh’s cabinet meeting, held on December 1, even suggests that the interim Sindh government plans to lease out the state land to a private company run by the Pakistan military.
The agenda read: “…approval of a joint venture agreement for the corporate agro-farming initiative in Sindh between the Land Utilization Department and Green Corporate Initiative Pvt Ltd”.
Green Corporate Initiative Pvt. Ltd. was registered in August with the Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan (SECP). Around 99% of shares in the firm are held by the Pakistan army through its nominee Shahid Nazir, as per documents seen by Geo News.
Geo Newsdid not find a website of Green Corporate Initiative Pvt. Ltd, or any contact information online.
The chief secretary Sindh did not reply to Geo News' requests for a comment. Geo News then reached out to Ahmed Shah, Sindh’s interim information minister, with its queries but did not hear back.
Geo News also reached out to the military’s media wing, the Inter-Services Public Relations, for a comment but no response was forthcoming till the filing of this report.
Meanwhile, the Sindh-based political party, Awami Tehreek, has issued a statement against the lease of state land to law enforcement agencies, adding that it was an “illegal decision” by the caretaker government and the land should instead be allotted to poor farmers.
A similar corporate farming project has been initiated by the Pakistan army in the Punjab province, where the latter has requested up to one million acres of state land and a 50-50 profit-sharing mechanism with the government of Punjab.
In June, however, the transfer of land was suspended by the Lahore High Court after it ruled that the military did not have the constitutional mandate to take up commercial ventures.
Later, another bench of the same Court allowed the caretaker government in Punjab to hand over the land for a period of 20 years to the military.
Memon is a reporter for the Daily Kawish newspaper in Karachi.