ISLAMABAD, Oct 6: It’s been more than three months since the Lahore High Court directed the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) to probe the illegal merger of a cooperative housing society with Bahria Town in 2004, but no action has been taken on the basis of the inquiry.
Insiders told Dawn that part of the reason for the delay could be that the inquiry has highlighted the role played by then chief minister Punjab and now Deputy Prime Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, who seemed to have bent all rules to appease Bahria Town owner Malik Riaz.
In October 2004, Mr Riaz had initiated the process for the merger of 2880-kanal Revenue Employees Cooperative Housing Society (RECHS) with Bahria Town. The society land was proposed to be converted to Phase-9 of Bahria Town, and members of the RECHS would have been accommodated accordingly.
Even though a minister had cast severe reservations over the project, with Mr Elahi supporting the case, it took less than six months for the merger to be finalised.
However, once the merger was complete, the Bahria Town management sold the land to Defence Housing Authority (DHA) in 2006.
The aggrieved RECHS members then approached the LHC and contended that instead of developing plots, Bahria Town had sold the land to DHA without compensation or providing alternative land to the aggrieved members.
On June 21, Justice Shahid Saeed of the Rawalpindi bench of Lahore High Court declared the merger illegal, and directed the director general Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) to probe the matter.
The agency had initiated the process for inquiry and after examining the record it had forwarded the matter to chief minister Punjab to formally start the probe and summon the accused.
Sources told Dawn that on July 12 the ACE was restrained from proceeding on the matter by a two-member bench of the LHC who passed a stay order on the petition filed by Bahria Town.
The stay order against the inquiry has continued to extend on consecutive dates of hearing and the culprits, who include revenue officials and some senior bureaucrats, are at large.
Meanwhile, the assistant advocate general Punjab, Rashid Hafeez, has admitted before the court that the merger was illegal as the RECHS administrator Col (retd) Abdullah Siddique was appointed for 90 days with an extension of 60 days to deal with the day-to-day affairs of society and he was not competent to decide the merger and to sign the merger agreement as well.
When Dawn contacted Qaiser Qadeer Qureshi, legal adviser of Bahria Town, he claimed that at the time of RECHS-Bahria Town merger, the total claimants in the housing society were 1,950.
“So far Bahria Town has compensated 1,450 allottees and about 500 cases of affected allottees are currently being processed,” he added.
He defended the management of Bahria Town and said the stay order had been requested not to shelter bigwigs, but because the inquiry would delay the compensation process.
“The ACE would take over the entire record that would not be accessible for Bahria Town management for the verification of the claims of affected members,” he said.
He added that once the compensation process was complete, there would be no use of ACE inquiry.
“As far as the merger order of the Punjab government is concerned, it would also not fall in the domain of ACE. The orders of the executives might be set aside but would not be liable to any criminal proceedings,” he maintained.
Mr Elahi despite repeated attempts could not be contacted for his comments.
Kamil Ali Agha, PML-Q spokesman, however, told Dawn that the PML-N government wanted to defame the leaders of his party but they would not succeed in their malicious campaign.
He claimed that Mr Elahi during his tenure never went beyond his defined mandate.
“If someone thinks that initiating an inquiry against Mr Elahi just before the start of election campaign is a wise move, then they are mistaken and we will foil such attempts,” he added.
Box According to documents made available to Dawn, it took five months for the merger to be proposed by Mr Riaz and then approved by the committee. Following is the timeline of events that took place.
October 2004: Mr Riaz initiated the process for the merger. The entire area of Revenue Employees Cooperative Housing Society (RECHS) was proposed to be converted to Phase-9 of Bahria Town. After a settlement with Col (retd) Abdullah Siddique, an ad hoc administrator of RECHS, Mr Riaz approached the Punjab government for completing the legal formalities.
December 2004: A summary for approval of the merger was moved to Farkhanda Wasim Afzal, then secretary cooperative department Punjab, who constituted a five-member committee to work out the terms and conditions of the merger. The committee – comprising the district coordination officer Rawalpindi, executive district officer revenue, district officer cooperative Rawalpindi and administrator RECHS – was asked to submit its recommendations within a month.
December 17, 2004: Ms Afzal forwarded the summary to then minister cooperative Punjab Malik Mohammad Anwar.
December 24, 2004: Mr Anwar vehemently opposed the merger and termed it against the interest of RECHS members. In a correspondence dated the same day, he said: “There is no legal provision of such kind of amalgamation. We are invoking a special provision in law to provide exemption. This I believe is also unprecedented. Such an action would set a wrong precedent and land mafia with the connivance of management of cooperative societies would usurp the right of the members thus making them vulnerable to exploitation.”
He proposed that since Col Siddique was appointed by the registrar cooperative societies Rawalpindi and was not competent to decide the merger, therefore, the matter may be deferred till the election of new RECHS body.
January 1, 2005: Kamran Rasool, then chief secretary Punjab, termed Mr Anwar’s proposal irrelevant and opined that Chief Minister Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi could clear the recommendations of the committee.
January 5, 2005: G.M. Sikander, then principal secretary to the chief minister, issued directives on behalf of Mr Elahi. The chief minister not only approved the recommendations of chief secretary but also ordered for inclusion of a member of Bahria Town in the committee and directed the committee to submit it report in 10 days.
February 2005: Mr Riaz became a member of the merger committee and the DCO Rawalpindi issued a notification in this regard.
February 10, 2005: The committee recommended the merger after examining the matter and Mr Elahi approved the recommendations of the committee.
February 14, 2005: Finally, secretary cooperative, Ms Afzal issued the order which read: “The competent authority is pleased to grant an exemption to RECHS, Rawalpindi, from the provision of the (cooperative societies) act to facilitate the merger of the said society with Bahria Town with immediate effect.