Kabul – July 25, 2021
Payk Investigative Journalism Center
Reporter: Abdul Mutalib Feraji
The Central Asia-South Asia (CASA-1000) power project’s progress has been stopped in the past several months due to insecurity, control of the Taliban over some districts located along the project route, and illegal acquisition of people’s land and property.
During a recent review of work and progress of the Afghanistan leg of the CASA-1000 project, documents and information obtained by the Payk Investigative Journalism Center show that not only private property of the people (rainfed and rural land) designated as affected area for the project have been registered as “government-owned land” but according to some local residents and elders, there has also been no information or awareness campaign on benefits and harms of the electricity pylons by the project officials, and for this reason, they have stopped the land acquisition process of their properties.
The CASA-1000 project, as the largest and a billion-dollar power transmission project in Central Asia, was first discussed in 2005 in the Regional Economic Cooperation Conference on Afghanistan (RECCA) and its work in Afghanistan began on 2018, after the signing of a joint agreement between Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
The project will allow for the export of 1,300 mw electricity from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan to Afghanistan and Pakistan. In Afghanistan, the project will cross Kunduz, Baghlan, Parwan, Kapisa, Panjshir, Laghman and Nengarhar provinces along a 1,250 km route through installation of 1,700 pylons. Based on reports and Afghan government officials’ promises, the project was supposed to complete on the spring of 2021, but now it has been extended until 2023 due to issues in the land acquisition process and delays in the work of the project in Pakistan, the main stakeholder of the project in the region.
Abdullah Sajid, head of the CASA-1000 project of the De Afghanistan Breshna Sherkat (DABS), tells Payk reporter that the work of the project in Afghanistan is 60% complete, but now its progress is halted due to protests of the people regarding land acquisition issues.
According to officials, out of 25 districts located on the project route in Khanabad, Burka, Nahrin, Pul-e Hisar, Jelga, Nejrab, Tagab, Badpakh and Lalpor districts, nothing can be done without the Taliban’s permission.
Illegal land acquisition and people’s protest
Based on documents and information of the CASA-100 project, the high-voltage transmission line project will be implemented on 3,990 hectares of land, which is the total area of land needed to be acquired. Of which, 355 hectares of land are agricultural and 27 are residential and commercial area.
Based on these documents, 1,686 sites designated for acquisition in seven eastern and northeastern provinces are planned for installation of pylons, of which only 510 are registered as private-owned and the rest as government property.
In total, the 1,300 mw high-voltage transmission line project will affect 1,087 households along the project route, of which more than 370 households will lose all of their property and land. Also, more than 500 residential and commercial structures, nearly 1,000 timber trees and 470 fruit trees will also be destroyed along the route.
Officials of the CASA-1000 say that the acquisition process of government-owned land has been completed along the project route, and the acquisition process of residential, agricultural, commercial, urban and rural lands, which make more than ten percent of the total project area, has for now been delayed due to protests by the people.
The obtained documents on registration and acquisition of land in one of the seven provinces (Panjshir) along the CASA-1000 project route show that only 21 pylon installation sites are registered as “private-owned” and more than 240 other sites as “government-owned”.
Meanwhile, according to Haji Ghulam Sarwar, an elder in Onaba district of Panjshir province, 135 households in this district including his own are directly affected by this project. And that officials of the project only acquire the 400 square meter land required for the instalation of the pylons, without paying attention to private property frontage, which he says is not acceptable.
Furthermore, Mirajuddin Noori, deputy for social affairs of the CASA-1000 project, admits that in some provinces the land acquasation process was not carried out in accordance with the “standards,” but 150-400 square meters for installation area and up to 51 meters for wideness on both sides of the pylon were registered based on the needs. However, land acquisition documents from Panjshir province only shows registration of 400 square meters for pylon installation area.
Mr. Noori further adds that they have received more than 200 complaints on land acquisition issues so far and that they have not been able to address seven complicated complaints from four provinces. He says that some of these people wants prepaid compensation for their properties which will be acquired by the project, but he provides no details on identities of the people involved in these complicated cases.
Something that Mirwais Alemi, former director general of the DABS, believes to be a violation of the law in the land acquisition process. According to Mr. Alemi, a living example of the illegal land acquisition process is the construction and installation of the Arghande Power Junction in Kabul’s western part, which has been two years since its fully operating but the compensation money for the acquisition of its land has not been paid yet.
Muhammad Zalmai Noori, representative of the people of Panjshir in the Parliament, is skeptical of the registration process of the acquired land along the project route and emphasizes that in addition to protests and differences of opinion, there has also not been awareness campaigns on the social and economic harms and benefits of the CASA-1000 project.
Cuts and multiplicity in the compensation budget of land acquisition
According to the officials of the CASA-1000 project, there is enough budget to compensate the land acquisition process and resettlement of the project affected families, and that no individual has received the compensation money or land for resettlement so far. In addition to claiming trespassing on their properties, a number of protesting citizens warn that they will not allow the officials of the CASA-1000 project to start construction work on the frontage of their properties.
Ahmad Mirza, a protesting resident of Panjshir province’s Onaba district, who claims that many hectars of his rainfed land, as well as timber and fruit trees, are located along the project route and will be directy affected by it, tells Payk reporter:
“As long as we don’t get our compensation and land acquisition money in cash, no pylon will be built in here.”
He does not know the total amount of the estimated compensation money, but in land acquisition and private-owned properties’ documents of Panjshir province, the highest price of one jerib of land based on the type and location (urban, rural, residential, agricultural, commercial …) is stated to be around three million Afghanis and the lowest around 150 thousand Afghanis. According to the project officials, the calculation and payment of the compensation money will be based on the same pricing and the final decision of the technical committee.
The CASA-1000 project officials provide different numbers on the total cost of acquiring private-owned land along the project route in each province, saying that 35 million Afghanis have been allocated for Panjshir province.
However, Jawad Noori, head of the CASA-1000 project in Panjshir province, says that no amount of compensation money has been allocated for this province and adds that the payment system is such that money is not transferred to the provinces, but the Ministry of Finance (MoF) will transfer the money directly to the bank accounts of the individuals.
On the other hand, documents and information related to the CASA-1000 project state the total cost of land acquisition and compensation money for the project affected families at around 23 million USD, equivalent to more than 1.8 billion Afghanis, which will be funded through the national budget of the country.
However, according to Abdul Mateen Arian, information officer of the MoF, the figure is more than 47 million USD, which will be used for land acquisition of the private property along the project route, compensation and resettlement, from the budget of the Government of Afghanistan.
Before this, the spokesperson for the then Ministry of Energy and Water, told the media that more than 47 million USD had been allocated for land acquisition and compensation along the route of the CASA-1000 project.
However, Abdullah Sajid, head of the CASA-1000 project, says that he does not know anything about these figures and adds that what the amount they have on the official record is eight million USD.
However, none of these officials provide a clear and adequate answer to why and how this amount was reduced from 47 to 23 and eventually to 8 million USD.
According to Mirwais Alemi, former director general of the DABS, we can be optimistic about this. However, he does not rule out corruption in provision of these contradictory figures.
Mr. Alemi warns that if there is corruption and that people are not compensated for their land, the CASA-1000 project’s pylons will have the same fate as the pylons of the Kabul’s imported electricity.
The end of the protests and the work resumption date of the project is unknown
According to a number of legal scholars, the protested issues can be better solved in the light of the “Constitution” and “Land Acquisition Law” of Afghanistan.
Subhanullah Misbah, deputy head of Afghanistan Lawyers Union, says that officials of the project, based on this law, should pay the compensation money to the people before the construction work begins. He adds that as the people are made aware of the benefits of the project they should also be made aware of its social and economic harms, otherwise, they have violated the law.
As stated in the first paragraph of Article 37 of the Land Acquisition Law:
“The land acquisition department is obligated to replace the acquired property for the owner and pay its expenses to the proprietor and the affected individual before the project begins implementation.”
Furthermore, the second paragraph of Article 18 of this law also states that whenever the acquisition department, for implementation of projects such as installation of electricity pylons and junctions, telecommunication, radio and television antennas, technical equipment and as such, requires less than one thousand square meters of area, it can buy the area based on the credible ownership document and with the consent of the owner.
Also, Article 34 of this law, in regards with owner’s the objection to the decision of the acquisition department, explicitly states that if the owner of the property is not satisfied with the acquisition, they can file an objection, stating the reasons for it, within 60 days with acquisition department. The acquisition department is also obliged to review it and make a decision within 30 days. If the owner is still not satisfied with the decision, the matter is referred to the jury, the decision of which would be final. If the parties are still not satisfied, the case will be referred to the relavent, competent court.
According to some experts and MPs, the project officials are obligated to address people’s protests in accordance with the applicable laws of the country and that they should be accountable in regards with progress of the project.