Understanding land measurements in Pakistan!

Yousuf Jawwad bio photo By Yousuf Jawwad Comment


What pisses me off about the real estate market in Pakistan is lack of standardization when it comes to land measurement. The standard unit appears to be square foot, 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 standardization effort by the gora. If the gora can standardize measurements all accross europe, surely he must have done this India too. My frustration when I came accross these units was always phrased as this, ‘pakistanion ke haath aik units lag gaye, un ka bhi pakar ke satiyanass ker diya’.

Whats with the ambiguity then?

In doing my research, I was in for a surprize. Apparently, this great ambiguity can be found accross the broder, 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 area, and there is no mention of acre or bhiga any where, no matter how large your ownership is.

The reasons behind this appears to be the distribution crown wasteland for irrigation purposes and then later consiladation efforts of these 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 trignometric survey points to imperial attempt to strenthen their rule over India.

The great trignometric survey coupled with East India Irrigation and Canal Act of 1869 standardized land measurements (aabyana) for taxation purposes. Things changed after attempts were made to increase the cultivatable area, by extending the already faboulous canals network and more barrages. After more water was available for irrgation purposes, land settling rights were sold amongst people. The great trignometric survey quantified the sellable area for government and the rights sold were according to the survey. To support the population, government constructed support structures (roads, hospitals, schools, water coarses etc.). Now the initial land sold to farmers were X canals, as per the trignometric 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, 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 whats 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 Crazy Units.

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