TWO hundred and fifty billion rupees. That is the colossal amount that Bahria Town on Tuesday in the Supreme Court offered to deposit in return for legal proceedings against it being dropped.
The proverbial tip of the iceberg, the figure indicates the scale of the real estate developer’s land grab in various parts of the country and the eye-watering profits that have flowed from it to the firm’s principals and their mega-influential backers.
The damning judgement found Bahria guilty of having illegally acquired thousands of acres for the mammoth project in Malir district in connivance with government officials. The transfer of state land by the Malir Development Authority — whose schemes by law must further the socioeconomic upliftment of local residents — to a private developer was held to be void ab initio.
The May 4 verdict contained observations that are particularly relevant in the current context.
For instance, taking into account only 7,068 acres in the Karachi project, it estimated that Bahria stood to make a net gain of around Rs225bn from the marketable land alone, ie not counting potential profits from built-up houses, apartments, etc.
Today, Bahria Town Karachi sprawls over at least 30,000 acres, making it the largest housing project in the country.
The entire saga smacks of a corrupt-to-the-core system where Bahria’s skullduggery has been enabled, abetted and wilfully obscured by various state functionaries and organisations.
NAB, which moves with such alacrity against other alleged instances of corruption, has displayed a curious inertia vis-à-vis the colossal scam unfolding since years on the outskirts of Karachi. And this was despite a number of legal challenges, including by local residents directly affected by the wholesale plunder of their ancestral communal land.
However, the apex court has been repeatedly thwarted in its efforts to uncover the truth while Bahria has time and again flouted court orders.
Machinations designed to minimise the impact of the damning May 4 verdict are now clearly afoot.
Even as recently as last November, the implementation bench found itself at a loss to gauge the size of Bahria Town Karachi because of a lack of cooperation by relevant authorities. The credibility of accountability mechanisms in the Bahria Town case lies in shreds, and only the Supreme Court can restore it.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2019