KARACHI: A fresh war of words between the federal government and the Sindh government erupted on Tuesday when the latter declared Islamabad’s move to take over twin islands of Bundal and Buddo through a presidential ordinance ‘unconstitutional’ while the ruling Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf at the Centre claimed the islands were handed over by the Pakistan Peoples Party-led Sindh government itself.
Keeping parliament out of the loop on the issue, President Arif Alvi had recently promulgated the Pakistan Islands Development Authority (PIDA) Ordinance, 2020 to allow the federal government to take control of the two islands to initiate and maintain a continuous process of reclamation, master planning, urban planning, spatial planning and to promote and stimulate the twin islands as trade, investment and logistics centres and hubs, duty-free areas and international tourist destinations.
On Tuesday, senior PTI leader and Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi posted on social media a provincial government letter, dated July 6, 2020, through which it had made “available” Bundal Island to the federal government.
Without touching on the issue as to who owns the islands, the federal minister, while responding to PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s tweet in which he termed the Centre’s move an “illegal annexation”, said: “The cat is out of the bag. All can see how hypocritical PPP leadership is. No unconstitutional steps have been taken on Bundal Island. For the record, island’s come under PQA [Port Qasim Authority] coordinates.”
The letter Mr Zaidi posted on Twitter titled “Change of use of land in the limits of Port Qasim Authority” was issued by the provincial secretary of the land utilisation department. It said the provincial cabinet in response to a request made by the federal government “decided to make the said Island available to federal government”. However, no name of island was mentioned in the letter.
The letter stated any development or construction activity on the “said Island by the federal government shall also protect and promote the legitimate interest of local fisherman/population”.
The document, tweeted by the PTI minister, did not contain anything that say the right of ownership, too, was transferred to the federal government and it appears that the presidential ordinance was promulgated in an attempt to acquire land ownership of the twin islands.
Following the federal minister’s tweet, Sindh Information Minister Nasir Hussain Shah asked Mr Zaidi as to why the federal government took permission from the provincial government in the first place if the former owned the islands.
“Three questions from you ... If this land was yours, then why did you ask us for NOC? Where is it written in our reply that we gave you the land? You are only allowed for constructions, for the benefit of the local people, which can be given to any private entity as well,” Mr Shah tweeted.
Also, the Sindh cabinet in its Tuesday meeting discussed the presidential ordinance and declared that the Constitution established the ownership of the provincial government on the lands, the islands and the land in the sea located within its territorial jurisdiction but the ordinance was promulgated in such a way as if the islands were property of the federal government.
Without going into details if the island was made available to the federal government for development before the promulgation of the ordinance, the Sindh cabinet said the provincial government had laid down some parameters for development. The parameters included that the islands would remain Sindh government’s property, terms and condition of development projects would be shared with the provincial government and the interest of the local population would be safeguarded, the cabinet recalled.
The ordinance, however, setting aside the conditions set by the Sindh government declared the islands located in the territorial jurisdiction of Sindh and Balochsiatn as the property of the federal government, the cabinet noted.
The provincial cabinet in its meeting, which was chaired by Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, decided to write a letter to the federal government with the insistence to withdraw the presidential ordinance that had denied the rights of the government and the people of Sindh.
‘Centre exceeded its authority’
Spokesman for the Sindh government and Adviser to CM on Law and Coastal Development Murtaza Wahab told a press conference after the cabinet meeting that it “decided to withdraw the letter written to the federation and now the Sindh government has nothing to say to the federal government about the islands”.
Without explaining the letter, Mr Wahab said the provincial government had never relinquished ownership of the island. “The Sindh government had given conditions to the federation regarding the construction and development of the island, on which the federation exceeded its powers,” said the legal adviser, adding that the Constitution was paramount and land adjacent and islands were owned by the provincial government and were provincial property under Article 172 of the Constitution.
“By issuing this ordinance, the federation has exceeded its authority,” he reiterated.
Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2020