Last week, the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Assembly passed an amendment in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minerals Sector Governance Act 2017 without any debate. This moved triggered controversy as it appeared that the government had taken ownership of the mines in the newly merged districts of the province.
KP’s Minister for Mines and Minerals Development Dr Amjad Ali tabled a bill titled Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Minerals Sector Governance (Amendment) Act 2019 and on the same day, it passed in the House without any debate.
Opposition members rejected the move and protested against it, but taking the advantage of its numbers in the assembly, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) easily passed the bill in the House.
Opposition members said the bill was not on the agenda items set for the sitting and was later included through a supplementary agenda distributed by the assembly staff during the proceedings.
Opposition members maintained that they had not read the bill and had no idea what was in it. “Why are you passing the bill in haste?” asked Jamaat-e-Islami lawmaker and former local government minister Inayatullah Khan.
Law Minister Sultan Muhammad Khan said that the bill was needed in public interest. He quoted a rule of the assembly that grants permission to introduce a bill and pass it on the same day.
The next day media reported that the government had taken ownership of the mines and minerals in the tribal districts.
Government representatives including the law minister, the minister for mines and minerals development and Advisor to Chief Minister on Merged Districts Ajmal Wazir held a joint presser refuting these reports. They said these reports were propaganda against the government and had twisted the facts.
Qaumi Watan Party leader Sikandar Khan Sherpao has announced an All Parties Conference on the issue
What is a fact is the inclusion of Section 2-A in the main law through which the government has seized ownership of mines and minerals in the province. Section 2-A defines ownership of minerals and states, “notwithstanding to contrary contained in any other law, or in any order or decree of court or other authority or in any rule of custom or usage or in any contract, instrument, deeds or other document, all mines and minerals shall always be deemed to have been the property of the government and the government shall have all powers necessary for the proper enjoyment of its right thereto.”
The government has, however, added a Schedule VIII to the main law through the amendment bill, under which special provisions have been given for a period of 10 years and the existing leases and licenses in the tribal districts for mining have been given exemption.
The schedule states that priority for grant of mineral titles will be given to local communities who owned and possessed lands having minerals. A local can obtain the mineral title of the land with the consent of the community who owned the land. These provisions will be in effect for 10 years.
Since Section 2-A clearly states that the ownership of minerals and mines will be the right of the government, it means that ownership from the tribes has been taken over.
An official of the KP Law Department told The Friday Times that they only vetted the bill and they did not know why the government had rushed to pass the bill in a single day. “Our job was just to vet it,” said officials. They said that the mines and minerals were owned by the federal government and after the merger, liabilities and assets were being transferred to KP.
The KP mines and minerals development department secretary Nazar Hussain Shah said that there was no mala fide intention behind the amendments. “We have kept the existing system of leasing for another 10 years so that the community may get benefit from the mines and minerals for a full decade,” he said. He said Schedule-VIII was included in the law to give economic benefits to local tribes.
To a question regarding the future of the law after the completion of 10 years, he said, “the law is not a divine document and can be altered if the people of the tribal districts object to it.”
Regarding the difference between the leasing system in the settled districts and the erstwhile FATA, he said that leases and titles were awarded in Jalsa-e-Aam with the consent of the community who claimed ownership of the mines.
Opposition parties are against the decision and the Qaumi Watan Party leader Sikandar Khan Sherpao has announced an All Parties Conference on the issue. He is also expected to launch a campaign against it. Opposition parties allege that the government is trying to make legal way for big names to secure leases in ex-FATA.
The law has been challenged in Peshawar High Court by advocate Fazal Khan who told The Friday Times that the government has passed the law without giving it to its own members in the assembly for reading. “The government will violate fundamental rights of the people and those who get leases in the area would affect the sanctity of the Hujrah and Community,” said Fazal Khan. He added that the people of tribal districts were weary of war and the only source of income for them was mines and minerals which would be given to big firms from other provinces.
“You should develop these areas before taking over their source of income,” he said.
The writer is a journalist based in Peshawar