July 9, 2021
The People’s Commission for Minority Rights (PCMR), a voluntary body for minority rights, has demanded that the approval of the proposed amendment ‘Protection of Communal Properties Ordinance 2002’ by the National Assembly be withheld.
Under the Protection of Communal Properties of Minorities Act, 2020, a ‘ministry concerned’ is mandated to issue a no-objection certificate for the sale/purchase /transfer/gifts of minority properties on the recommendation of the National Commission for Minorities.
Chairperson of PCMR, Peter Jacob, and its members, Justice (R) Kalash Nath Kohli, and Fatima Atif, in a joint statement on behalf of PCMR, have emphatically rejected the idea of passing an amendment to the ordinance that gives absolute power to an entity or person. They expressed their apprehensions that this amendment would lead to an abuse of power, lack of transparency and loss of properties belonging to the minority communities.
They said that while the government failed to solicit proper and broad consultation on the matter, the objective explained in the amendment bill also failed to justify the purpose of the concentration of power with regard to authorization of sale/purchase/ transfer and gift of these properties to fewer persons.
“The arbitrary nature of legislation and measures adopted for the Amendment in Section 6 of the Protection to Communal Properties Ordinance 2002, are sufficient grounds to suspect that concentration of powers to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, will deprive the minorities of the rightful use of these properties,” said Peter Jacob, the Executive Director of Center for Social Justice.
As per the law, (Communal Properties Ordinance 2002), the recommendation process involves the National Minorities Commission as a recommendatory forum for this authorization. But it is a contradiction that the government set up a National Commission for Minorities in May 2002 which is generally criticized for its redundancy. Therefore, on one hand, there are complaints of massive abuse, land grabbing and illegal occupation of properties belonging to minority communities, while on the other hand, this amendment will further avoid accountability by a broader body.
Already there are several properties belonging to Christian, Hindu, Sikhs and others that have been under dispute and the communities have been engaged in court cases to reclaim the land from rival factions. For example, some disputed Christian properties include schools and churches.
PCMR members say that the amendment will make the situation more complicated and say that a comprehensive review and analysis of the problems related to communal properties must be analysed before even introducing a law for this purpose.
“On one hand the properties belonging to Christians, Hindus, Sikhs, and Jews have been usurped with impunity, while ironically the officials of the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony have been facing charges of embezzlement, etc.,” said an official PCMR statement.
“We request the Chairman of Senate and heads of political parties represented there, that this Bill not be passed but rather commission a full review of the situation and existing law that should pave way for tabling a comprehensive law to protect communal properties (of the religious minorities).”
Separately, a bishop in Pakistan has also opposed the move.
“We reject this ordinance,” said Bishop Jimmy Mathew of Mardan, who also heads, Save the Church Property Movement. “It only paves the way for selling these properties. It is a conspiracy against Christians. We shall challenge it in court,” he vowed.
The National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs and Interfaith Harmony has approved the bill.
The bishop was speaking at a Press Conference at the National Press Club in Islamabad earlier this week.
Even earlier in July, Bishop Arshad Kaleem John, the moderator’s commissary Bishop of Karachi and Balochistan, had asked the authorities to protect church properties in Quetta. According to information, he had accused unknown elements of trying to sell Church of Pakistan properties including Christian Hospital, St. Teresa School, St. Mary’s Church priest’s residence, St. Mary’s School-Cantonment, Bethel Memorial Church and the Hospital Compound.