Centre moots panel to oversee use of money paid by Bahria Town

Updated March 11, 2020

Email

Sindh AG says provincial govt terrified about centre dictating which development projects to initiate and drop. — Bahria Town/File
Sindh AG says provincial govt terrified about centre dictating which development projects to initiate and drop. — Bahria Town/File

ISLAMABAD: The federal government on Tuesday came up with a suggestion before the Supreme Court that a high-powered committee be formed to ensure transparency in the use of funds being deposited by Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd Karachi (BTLK).

Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan argued before a three-judge SC bench headed by Justice Faisal Arab that the funds being deposited by BTLK, currently to the tune of Rs57 billion, primarily belonged to the people of Sindh and it would be most appropriate that the entire amount being deposited and to be deposited by the property developers be spent exclusively for the benefit and welfare of the people of Sindh in the most transparent and equitable manner.

Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin, however, opposed the idea by stating that the provincial government was terrified that the federal government would tell it which development project to initiate and which to drop.

Sindh advocate general says provincial government is terrified that federal government will tell it which development project to initiate and which to drop

Accepting the proposal would mean that Sindh would no longer have a say over which projects the money should be spent on, the Sindh AG feared and questioned how the federal government could interfere on priority projects being envisaged by the Sindh government. Where the provincial autonomy will go then, the Sindh AG wondered, adding that the provincial government was ready to listen to the SC, but not to sit with the federal government.

He, however, assured the court that the Sindh government was ready to share by identifying projects.

The SC, however, asked the Sindh AG to furnish a written reply on the proposal suggested by the federal government. Mr Talibuddin replied that he would take these proposals to the Sindh cabinet for their determination.

The case will now be taken up again on April 2.

AG Khalid Jawed Khan has assured that neither the federal nor the Sindh governments will have any say over the spending of the projects and proposed that the chairman of the committee to be nominated by the apex court in consultation with the chief justice of Pakistan should be a former judge of the Supreme Court hailing from and residing in Sindh.

On March 21, 2019, a three-judge SC bench headed by former judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed had approved a Rs460bn offer put forth by Bahria Town to implement the apex court’s May 4, 2018 judgement in which it held that the grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA) by the Sindh government, its exchange for the land of the private land developers — Bahria Town — and anything done under the provisions of the Colonisation of Government Land Act, 1912, (COGLA) by the Sindh government was illegal and of no legal existence.

The land was granted for launching incremental housing scheme, but instead of launching the scheme, the MDA exchanged it with Bahria Town to launch a scheme of its own, the judgement had regretted. The settlement concerns only with the Bahria Town Karachi’s Superhighway project spread over 16,896 acres.

During the hearing Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan, also a member of the bench, observed that the court has already seen the sorry state of projects launched by the Sindh government and recalled how Rs6bn granted by the federal government to the Sindh government for Outfall Canal vanished just like that and the officers responsible were suspended later to be promoted again.

The AG suggested that other members of the committee should include the secretary of planning, development and special initiatives, chief secretary of Sindh, two prominent citizens hailing from and residing in Sindh, one each to be nominated by the federal as well as the provincial governments and one prominent town planner to be nominated by the chairman of the committee whereas the committee should also be allowed to co-opt any expert for its assistance from time to time.

50-50 basis

Similarly, the amount deposited by BTLK periodically should be spent on the projects on a 50-50 basis in Urban/Rural areas of Sindh. In Karachi the money should go towards infrastructure projects while in rural areas towards hospitals, housing schemes for the poor, schools and sewerage systems etc.

The projects to be approved by the committee, the AG stated, should be other than the projects for which the provincial government was otherwise liable or bound to provide funds independently nor should it include ongoing projects undertaken by the provincial government.

The federal as well as the provincial governments should identify specific projects in Karachi as well as rural areas in Sindh for the consideration of the committee and before undertaking or initiation of the work, the committee should submit details of the projects for the approval of the apex court, the proposal suggest.

The committee will execute and undertake projects through departments concerned or through the public private partnership or in any other manner or through bodies to ensure maximum transparency as well as best possible use of funds for the projects, it said.

The amount spent on the projects will also be subject to audit by the Auditor General of Pakistan as well as by reputable independent auditors appointed by the committee, the proposal said, adding the committee will also submit periodic progress reports in respect of the projects undertaken for the consideration of the apex court.

The AG explained that the proposal was made in the interest of justice and for the welfare of the people of Sindh who were the real owners of land yet they were wrongfully deprived of its actual value and proceeds and such was only recovered due to proceedings initiated by the Supreme Court.

Therefore, the federal government solicits the approval of the Supreme Court for these proposals, the AG said.

During the hearing, Barrister Ali Zafar representing BTLK requested the Supreme Court that since the markets were going down, it would be appreciated if the money should also be spent in Malir to augment the market situation.

Published in Dawn, March 11th, 2020