Understanding Land Measurements on Pakistan

What pisses me off about the real estate market in Pakistan is the lack of standardisation when it comes to land measurement. The standard unit appears to be square feet, but when it comes to larger units, especially the marla and kanal, they mean different things in different postal codes, e.g. 1 marla in Lahore is 225 sqft while 1 marla in a place like Sahiwal is 272.25 sqft. Why is that? If you have a science background, you would know about System Internationale and the standardisation effort by the gora. If the gora can standardize measurements all across Europe, surely he must have done this India too. My frustration when I came across these units was always phrased as this, ‘pakistanion ke haath aik units lag gaye, un ka bhi pakar ke satiyanass ker diya’.

What's with the ambiguity then?

In doing my research, I was in for a surprise. Apparently, this great ambiguity can be found across the border, i.e. India and is left by the Gora himself!!. Before I go any further, I want to point out that the ownership deeds we have are always in marla and Kanal, the smallest unit for the area, and there is no mention of an acre or bhiga anywhere, no matter how large your ownership is.

The reasons behind this appear to be the distribution of crown wasteland for irrigation purposes and then later consolidation efforts of this distribution for taxation and legal purposes. During the initial stages of British rule over India, there were a couple of efforts made by them to understand the local agricultural practices and taxation policies. Early efforts such as East India Irrigation and Canal Act of 1869 and The great trigonometric survey points to imperial attempts to strengthen their rule over India.

The great trigonometric survey coupled with the East India Irrigation and Canal Act of 1869 standardised land measurements (aabyana) for taxation purposes. Things changed after attempts were made to increase the cultivatable area, by extending the already fabulous canals network and more barrages. After more water was available for irrigation purposes, land settling rights were sold amongst people. The great trigonometric survey quantified the sellable area for government and the rights sold were according to the survey. To support the population, the government constructed support structures (roads, hospitals, schools, watercourses etc.). Now the initial land sold to farmers were X canals, as per the trigonometric survey. but there were excess settlements which included government-built settlements. In order to settle the legal rights of people who bought the settlement rights, the government of india reduced the value of Karam (Karam is a length value, and 9 karam square forms a marla) thus reducing the size of marla and Kanal. However, the acre remains the same i.e. 43560 sqft. Crazy, right? I know!

So what's the verdict then?

Unit Name Universal Standard Adjusted Standard 1 Karam 5 feet 6 inches 5 feet 1 Marla 3 Karam x 3 Karam = 16.5 ft x 16.5 ft = 272.25 sqft 3 Karam x 3 Karam = 15 ft x 15 ft = 225 sqft 1 Kanal 20 marla = 272.25 sqft x 20 = 5445 sqft 20 marla = 225 sqft x 20 = 4500 sqft 1 bhiga 80 marla or 4 kanal or 21780 sqft not applicable 1 acre 160 marla or 8 kanal or 43560 sqft not applicable

There are certain unique cases, where bhiga equals to 5 Kanal but acre equates to 8 kanal. Crazy Units.

Yousuf Jawwad

Yousuf Jawwad