OUTLOOK — By Ali Al Habsi — Recently the media came up with the news of some people possessing sizable lands measuring thousands of square metres. This worrisome phenomenon is not confined to Muscat Governorate alone, in the other governorates it is not uncommon that 30 per cent of the size of a village is owned by one person.
Some individuals are in the habit of appropriating lands in a random way. In the dead of night they move old furniture and other unused stuff to plots of land so the shaikhs bear witness that they are the legitimate owners of the land in question, after that the land is officially registered in their names and the documents are endorsed by local committees and finally approved by the wali office. By such manipulation they become owners of lands that they have no right to take for themselves. The same method is applied prior to execution of large projects, particularly road projects. Scores of people scramble to illegally appropriate lands that were previously owned by no-one at the time they hear that a new road project will be implemented and the government ends up paying millions of rials in compensation to these illegal owners.
The aggravating phenomenon of illegal land grab by individuals raises an important question: are there no monitoring authorities to verify the status of lands and investigate on whether they really own these lands.
The situation has becoming really worrying. Lands are registered in the names of toddlers in their cradles, wives, sisters and others kin. We are not speaking about small-sized lands for residential use but vast plots intended for commercial and industrial purposes. This manipulation takes place while honest straightforward people wait for months and maybe years for completion of formalities to get lands in accordance with the law only to be told that their applications were rejected because they already possess lands. Ironically, what they really possess are lands of 300 square metres or maybe less than that. After conducting the draw many are granted lands on foothills, wadis or areas hemmed in by cemeteries. Even this is not available to thousands of applicants who after a long wait were told that their transaction files went missing.
The authorities concerned have to put in more efforts to rectify the shortcomings in the matter of granting lands. They have to find root solutions to the issue of illegal appropriation of lands.
The local committees should be strict when dealing with land holding cases which need to be assessed properly in order to decide whether or not the claimants deserve to be given the land in question. It is unfair that some people own a single plot of land while others are in possession of three, four and maybe more than a dozen.