Discourse Vol 3, Issue 3
Pakistan or ‘Plotistan’?
Publication Year : 2022

The  recent   furore   over   plot   allotments   to   bureaucrats and judges   has again  brought  to  the  fore  a   dark  aspect of  governance  in  Pakistan  – the  practice  of gifting  away valuable land at subsidized rates. Although the allotment has been cancelled, it is  unlikely to  stop a  malpractice that has already cost Pakistan  a  huge fortune  since its  creation.

More important  than random outbursts of anger is the need to  understand  the  basis  of this uncalled-for  generosity. Till now,  there has  not  been much information  and research on the antecedents of land giveaways and related matters. That should  change with  an upcoming  PIDE  study,  co-authored by the  institution’s  vice chancellor Dr Nadeem who  coined the  term  ‘Plotistan’.  Although   the  topic   is   public  wealth, land-related  issues  have received extensive coverage since land  is the  most sought-after asset in Pakistan. What follows is  a  recap of the findings.

First,  a   word  about  the  importance  of  this  issue.  From  a purely  social justice  perspective,  it  is  downright  abhorrent that  in   a  country  where a  major  portion  of the  population finds it difficult to buy their own chunk of land for building  a shelter, extremely valuable land is gifted to a select group of people at ridiculously  low  prices. Additionally, if assets  like public land are professionally and properly  managed, there might not arise the need for extractive taxation and taking recourse to expensive loans for financing development work.

Let’s  revert  to  the  question  of  historical  antecedents  for which we’ll  have to traverse  back to the times of British  rule. The Empire  had its own priorities and ambitions, and gifting

‘crown’  land  at  extremely  low  rates  (or  for  free)  was one major avenue of ensuring that official goals were met. The establishment of canal colonies like Lyallpur (Faisalabad), for example, would  not only bring in  revenue, but also help win loyalties and establish denser settlements on the western side of British  India. The best way to do it,  they reasoned,  would be to offer land (and private entitlements) at extremely low rates  or as an incentive.  Policies  like the provision of land  to martyrs of the armed forces, harken back to that time when military  personnel  died serving  the  Empire.