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ISLAMABAD: Following harsh comments by a minister claiming that an ‘organised mafia’ has occupied precious railway land, the opposition in the Senate walked out in protest.

The controversy started when Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed Ahmed, during the question hour, while talking about illegal encroachments on railway land, said “Railway kisi ki baap ki jageer nahin hey”.

Chaudhry Tanveer of the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), in response to Sheikh Rasheed’s fiery comments, repeated similar words for Lal Haveli — the political office of Sheikh Rasheed, which he has been using for years. Mr Tanveer pointed out that the property belonged to the evacuee trust property board. The opposition announced it would stage a walkout as a mark of protest over ‘un-parliamentary remarks’ by the railways minister.

Chair does not allow opposition members to speak on RTS fiasco

The adviser on parliamentary affairs pointed out that both sides resorted to uncouth language and asked the chair to expunge the remarks from the proceedings.

Sheikh Rasheed said that the ministry had plans to act against this ‘mafia’ which includes officials of Pakistan Railways. The railways minister also said that the government is going to move a summary in the next cabinet meeting to decide what to do with unused railway property. He said that the government will not disturb the poor people who are living on railway land but a certain ‘mafia’ has developed plazas on such valuable government property — this he said, will not be allowed.

The minister, in his written reply, informed the house that 5520.747 acres of railway land has been leased out for various purposes (premium shops, agriculture, parking stands etc.) during the last three years. He said that 4912.683 acres of land has been proposed to be leased out for various purposes through open auction.

Following the walkout of the opposition, the chair had to adjourn the proceedings for some time, but the Senate could not transact any business after the question hour as following the break, there was another walkout by the opposition when it was not allowed to speak on the Result Transmission System (RTS) fiasco.

Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf Senator Azam Swati began to give a brief statement on a calling attention notice that he had moved, drawing the attention of the house towards the alleged failure of the RTS in the elections, and the performance of the Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) following the fiasco. He said that the ECP and the National Database and Registration Authority were blaming each other over the failure of the system.

Pakistan Peoples Party Senator Mian Raza Rabbani said that Mr Swati was only presenting his side of the story and that he should have moved an adjournment motion as the whole house wanted a debate on the matter. Mr Rabbani said that the opposition has already demanded that a parliamentary commission be formed to probe the allegations of rigging in the election. The Senate’s deputy chairman, however, pointed out that the rules allowed Mr Swati to speak on his calling attention notice for 10 minutes.

PML-N Senator Mushahidullah Khan sought to speak on a point of order, which was refused by the chair. He objected over the denial and said that everyone knew that the election was rigged, “this is not martial law that I cannot speak,” he said. Raza Rabbani also endorsed Senator Khan’s views and said that he should be allowed to speak. However, the chair held that point of order could not be raised during the calling attention notice and he asked Senator Swati to continue with his argument. This irked the opposition and it staged a protest walkout from the house that led to the lack of quorum. The chair had to adjourn to meet again today, on Thursday.

Earlier during the question hour, the details of inquiry conducted by the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) into the alleged corruption in the construction of the Islamabad International Airport were shared with the house. It was revealed that over a dozen retired military officials are among the 34 accused in the alleged corruption.

The house was informed in a written reply by the interior ministry that the accused included former chairman of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Board Tariq Waseem — who is a retired Lt General — former members of the board retired Major Generals Mir Haider Ali and Ashraf Chaudhry, retired Air Marshal Rashid Kaleem and retired Air Vice Marshal (AVM) Shahid Latif. They included the former Directors General of CAA Khalid Chaudhry — who is also a retired AVM — and retired Air Commodore Junaid Ameen. Others named included former Deputy Director Generals of the CAA Riazul Haq, Salih Habib, Junaid Ahmad Siddiqui and M. Safdar Khan — all of whom are retired AVMs.

The main accused include former project directors of the new airport retired Brigadiers Iftikhar Ali and Bilal Hameed, as well as Vikram S. Sodha, Asif Basheer Ahmad and M. Musharraf Khan. The remaining include ex-director planning and development of the CAA, M. Roohullah, ex-director works and development Yousaf Kamal and project management, airside infrastructure, and design consultants. It was pointed out that one of the accused, Mr Sodha, filed a writ petition in the Sindh High Court challenging the jurisdiction of the FIA enquiry proceedings. The petition is still pending before the court.

Published in Dawn, August 30th, 2018