ISLAMABAD: At a time when the government is facing paucity of funds for civilian development projects, the defence ministry has asked the Planning Commission (PC) for over Rs1.66 billion for setting up a national canine centre for training of dogs.
The government has already slashed the Public Sector Development Programme to Rs140 billion from the budgeted Rs280 billion in the wake of last year's floods and consequent financial crunch.
Among other reasons, the development budget was reduced to spare money for debt servicing and defence expenditure needed for the fight against militancy.
The military already runs a well-established army dog centre in Rawalpindi, which is financed through the defence budget.
The ministry has sought funds for salaries and vehicles for dog trainers and the rent for the land where the centre is planned to be set up in four years. According to official estimates, the per dog cost is projected at Rs2.710 million, including Rs1.405 million capital cost and Rs1.305 million operational and maintenance expenses.
After its completion, the centre is projected to train 3,260 dogs in 10 years.
The defence ministry has requested the PC for the money despite the fact that the proposed canine centre was withdrawn from the list of projects funded under the PSDP.
According to sources, various departments and state institutions, including the president's secretariat, have pressured the PC to include the project in the agenda of the meeting of the Central Development Working Party.
The PC-1 of the project was initially submitted to the PC in February last year. However, it was removed from the CDWP agenda after the government's focus shifted to flood-affected people.
Then in September, the president's secretariat wrote to then Planning Commission Secretary Ashraf M. Hayat asking that the project be approved. It was suggested in the letter that the actual funding be put on hold till the financial position improves.
So far, Dawn has learnt, three attempts have been made to get the canine centre approved from the CDWP, which approves only civilian projects.
Despite strong reservations of the finance ministry and some PC officials, the CDWP discussed the project in its recent meeting, but decided to seek further information.
The president's secretariat, however, is not the only office to have supported the project. Mr Hayat also wrote a letter for its inclusion in the agenda of the CDWP meeting.
Planning Commission's Deputy Chairman Dr Nadeemul Haq has also approved in principle the idea of financing the project from the civilian budget with a suggestion that its cost be revised.
A finance ministry official told Dawn that the ministry questioned its requirement of 338 personnel to be headed by a brigadier and suggested that the number of employees be reduced to 263, including the staff of Rawalpindi's army dog centre.
The finance ministry also said that there was no need to pay Rs79.2 million as land rent because a dog centre already existed on a land of 28 acres.
The proposed centre will purchase 15 vehicles, including land cruisers worth Rs22.678 million, to be maintained and operated at a cost of another Rs11.764 million.