KARACHI: Keeping parliament out of the loop, President Arif Alvi has promulgated an ordinance to facilitate the Centre to take control of Sindh’s two islands, Bundal and Buddo, along the Karachi coast, triggering criticism from the ruling party of Sindh as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari on Monday equated the move with the illegal annexation of India-occupied Jammu and Kashmir by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year.
While the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government managed to keep it out of limelight, Mr Bhutto-Zardari on Monday posted the development on Twitter, vowing that his party would oppose the federal government’s move in the National Assembly, Senate as well as the provincial assembly.
President Alvi on August 31 promulgated The Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance, 2020, which was notified the following day. Just two weeks later, Mr Alvi discussed the fate of Bundal Island development with real estate tycoon and businessmen, including Malik Riaz, Aqeel Karim Dedhi and Arif Habib.
The Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) is being established “for the development and management of the islands in the internal waters and territorial waters of Pakistan”, but only the Bundal and Buddo Islands are mentioned as “specified areas” in the first schedule of the ordinance.
The PIDA will be directly answerable to the prime minister, who would be the patron of the authority. Besides approving the policies, the PM would give approval to all development schemes.
Bilawal equates Alvi’s move with Modi’s illegal annexation of held Kashmir
The federal government would appoint a serving or retired grade-22 bureaucrat or a serving or retired officer of the armed forces “not below the rank of a lieutenant general or equivalent” or an “experienced professional” or a “businessman” as the PIDA chairman for a period of four years. The head office of the PIDA will be located in Karachi, but the government hints at establishing regional offices in other parts of Pakistan.
Under the ordinance, the authority would be exempted from paying income tax for one full decade, as Section 30 reads: “Notwithstanding anything contained in any other law, for a period of ten years starting from the date of notification...the Authority shall be exempt from payment of tax on its income, profits and gains.”
A cursory look at the functions of the PIDA, as stated in the ordinance, suggests that the authority would act as another land-owning agency in Karachi and would perform functions of a fully empowered local government.
Section 5 of the Ordinance deals with the functions of the authority and some of its clauses read: The Authority shall “initiate and maintain a continuous process of reclamation, master planning, urban planning, spatial planning for” Bundal and Buddo Islands; promote and stimulate the two islands as “trade, investment and logistics centres and hubs, duty free areas and international tourist destinations”.
The Authority may raise funds through any means including through real estate investment trusts, bonds, sukuk, obtain loans from donor agencies, government bodies and financial institutions. The authority is also allowed to generate its own electricity or obtain utilities in bulk or otherwise.
The PIDA is also empowered to retain, lease, sell, exchange, rent of otherwise dispose of any land vested in it.
PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari tweeted that his party would oppose the federal government’s move in Sindh Assembly as well as in the parliament.
Terming the step “illegal annexation of Sindh’s islands through presidential ordinance by the PTI government”, he tweeted: “I ask how is this act any different to Modi’s actions in occupied Kashmir?”
Meanwhile, former chairman of Senate and PPP leader Raza Rabbani termed the ordinance a “crude attempt to bring under control of the federal government the coastal areas of the provinces of Sindh and Balochistan”.
Mr Rabbani condemned the promulgation of the ordinance that he said was not laid before the National Assembly or the Senate due to “mala fide intention”.
“The federal government seeks to annex these lands/islands which are properties of the provinces, to exploit them for financial gain by allowing crony capitalists to undertake housing and such other projects including tourism, which has been devolved to the provinces” under the 18th Amendment, he stated.
He was of the opinion that the ordinance was another attempt to roll back the 18th Amendment and deprive the provinces of their lawful lands. He said the ordinance was not only in violation of the Constitution but also of the judgements of the superior courts.
Published in Dawn, October 6th, 2020