ISLAMABAD: Authorities have failed to decide the fate of the country’s third fish harbour established at Gaddani, Lasbela, Balochistan, four years ago to boost seafood export to European countries and the US.
The fish harbour was developed in 2015 by a private company, MK Pakistan, which purchased 172 acres of land at the rate of Rs350,000 per acre from the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) in 2015.
However, the legal transfer of the land requires approval by the prime minister which has not come yet.
According to the MK Pakistan, despite demand of Pakistani seafood products in international market, the country has only two fish processing plants to export seafood, while India has 396, Oman 27, Iran 101 and Bangladesh 72 plants.
The private firm is of the view that Pakistan is under tremendous pressure for supply of quality fish and fisheries products to international markets to sustain and boost its seafood export. However, the condition at the Karachi Fish Harbour and its facilities do not meet international standards and Pakistan’s export to EU are limited to those from only two fish processing plants. Therefore, the country is missing a golden opportunity of exporting seafood products to the European Union and the US and by opening more fish harbours and with available quantum of seafood, the country can export fish products worth over $700 million annually against the present export of $380m.
Legal transfer of land to private firm awaits PM’s approval
According to documents available with Dawn, the Fisheries Development Board supported the MK Pakistan in establishing the fish harbour in Gaddani. The Privatisation Commission did not make any objection to the purchase of land by the MK Pakistan and urged the firm to seek approval from the federal cabinet.
The PTDC had purchased the 172 acres of land from the Balochistan government some 40 years ago but it had remained under the use of the provincial government which sold the land to the MK Pakistan in 2013 under a profit-sharing agreement.
However, the deal became null and void when the PTDC took possession of the land. Then its auction for a 30-year lease took place in Dec 2014 and being the highest bidder, the MK Pakistan won the auction by offering a bid of Rs350,000 per acre.
After the MK Pakistan approached the Supreme Court to seek legal transfer of the land, a three-member bench including former chief justice Mian Saqib Nisar decided the petition of the firm on March 15, 2018, ruling that as the matter was pending before the Senate’s Functional Committee on Devolution, if an adverse decision was taken by the committee, the petitioner could again move the apex court.
The Senate committee in its meeting on Feb 22, 2018 noted with concern that the genuine investor who wanted to contribute to economic development of the people of Balochistan, particularly Gaddani, was being discouraged on the pretext of internal confusion/inaction on the part of departments concerned.
The Board of Investment through a letter asked the Privatisation Commission to consider the MK Pakistan’s request in the light of the cabinet division’s letter of May 25, 2019 that authorised the commission to privatise 172 acres of the PTDC land. The Marine Fisheries Department, which is working under the Ministry of Ports and Shipping, has also recommended establishment of a fish harbour at Gaddani.
The summary sent to the prime minister in November also suggested that the profit-sharing agreement between the PTDC and the owners of the fish harbour be revised and that the government should increase its share.
Malik Mohammad Khan, owner of the MK Pakistan, says the livelihood of over 40,000 fishermen and their families is linked with Gaddani fish harbour.
When contacted, PTDC MD Intikhab Alam said the transfer of the land was subject to approval by the prime minister. “So far the file is lying with the prime minister and he has not signed it,” he added.
The MD claimed that neither the Senate committee nor the federal cabinet had made any decision in favour of the firm.
He said the Privatisation Commission had put the land in the list of its assets to be privatised despite the PTDC request to remove the land from the list so that the corporation could act accordingly in case of any decision by the prime minister.
However, Mr Alam said the MK Pakistan should not have established the fish harbour before legal transfer of the land.
Published in Dawn, August 5th, 2019