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ISLAMABAD: The Capital Development Authority (CDA) told a parliamentary panel on Wednesday that it will be sealing all educational institutions operating in residential areas in accordance with the civic body’s bylaws.

However, CDA representatives told the panel that there are currently no plans of providing alternative land to private schools at subsidised rates and educational institutions will have to buy plots through an open bid.

CDA Director Building Control Zahid Sultan told a subcommittee of the National Assembly Standing Committee on Cabinet Secretariat, which was convened by MNA Nafeesa Inayatullah Khan Khattak, about the authority’s drive against the non-conforming use of houses as educational institutions and on its policy on the provision of alternative land to these institutions.

Civic body official tells parliamentary committee schools will not be given subsidised plots

On directives from the Supreme Court, city managers have been sealing commercial outlets in residential areas and according to CDA bylaws, private schools are also not allowed to run in residential buildings.

The director said: “We have already served notices on all schools operating in residential areas. However, the owners of these schools got stay orders from the high court. Once their stay is vacated all the schools will have to move from residential areas.”

MNA Nafeesa Khattak stressed on finding a workable solution to the problem.

“This is a big issue and affects the futures of so many students. We cannot just leave it like that and all of us have to come up with a solution”, she said.

Ms Khattak asked the CDA director about the 116 plots which the authority had set aside for educational institutions. To this the director agreed that the plots had been set aside for schools however, he said, they will only be allotted the plots after an open bidding.

The chair suggested CDA offer subsidized plots. She reasoned: “If you don’t offer subsidizes plots, the bigger schools that will have no problems but the low cost schools will struggle with buying plots”.

Mr Sultan explained that in the past the civic agency had allotted plots to private schools on subsidizes rates apparently in a ‘non-transparent manner’. He was referring to the allocation of over 40 plots to elite schools that include Beaconhouse School, Roots Montessori, Headstart, Frobels’ International, Pak-Turk and others.

“We are still facing inquiries in various standing committees about those plots which is why we decided that this time, there will be no pick and choose and no subsidized rates”, he said.

When PML-N MNA Farhana Qamar pointed out that exams were just around the corner and that the futures of all students is at stake, Additional Secretary Capital Administration and Development Division (CADD) Malik Qaiser Majeed suggested CDA amend its bylaws allowing private schools to operate in residential areas for at least two years.

“I think this is the best way to tackle the situation”, he said.

However, the CDA official reminded the committee that the authority had already amended its rules and bylaws to give a two year cover to private schools, hospitals and clinics and one year to government offices, hostels and guest houses.

The Supreme Court had rejected this amendment saying that it will be discriminatory to other commercial outlets, he added.

The committee decided the matter will be taken up in the main standing committee and if need be, lawmakers will take it up in parliament as a bill.

Talking to Dawn about the amendments in the bylaws that were rejected by the Supreme Court, sources in the authority said that the city’s managers should have sought specific relief for private schools and that they had instead sought collective relief which was turned down. “Our superiors had not realised the importance of the school shifting issue”, one official said

According to CDA records, 352 properties in residential areas are being used as educational institutions and according to records of the Private Educational Institutions Regulatory Authority, some 77,000 students are attending around 300 registered schools in residential areas.

In a late night development, Interior Minister Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan took notice of CDA’s warning to private schools in which it had directed them to vacate the residential areas in 15 days.

The minister said that the CDA should refrain from creating an atmosphere of uncertainty. He added that such directives are not possible to implement within a short time.

He further directed the interior secretary to take up the matter with CDA Chairman Maroof Afzal and find an amicable solution.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2016