PM asks Sindh governor to sort out islands issue

Updated 09 Oct 2020

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In this photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet. — Photo courtesy PMO Twitter
In this photo, Prime Minister Imran Khan chairs a meeting of the federal cabinet. — Photo courtesy PMO Twitter

ISLAMABAD: Amid widespread criticism and restlessness in Sindh over the Centre’s move to take control of two islands for developing them as trade and investment hubs and international tourist destinations, Prime Minister Imran Khan on Thursday directed Sindh Governor Imran Ismael to sort out the matter related to the project in consultation with the provincial government.

The directives were issued by the prime minister to the governor when the latter called on him after a meeting which was held at the Prime Minister House to review progress on the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development in Punjab and Bundal Island projects in Sindh.

“The Bundal Island project will generate immense opportunities of investment and employment,” the prime minister said during his meeting with the Sindh governor, according to a brief announcement by the PM Office.

The meeting on the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development project in Lahore and Bundal Island Project was also attended by Naya Pakistan Housing and Development Authority Chairman retired Lt Gen Anwar Ali Haider, Ravi Urban Development Authority Chairman Rashid Aziz, and the chief secretaries of Punjab and Sindh.

Meeting in PM House reviews progress on Ravi Riverfront Urban Development in Punjab and Bundal Island Project in Sindh

According to the official handout, the meeting was also attended by the chairman of the newly-established Pakistan Island Development Authority (PIDA) through a controversial presidential ordinance despite the fact that so far no one had been appointed for the post.

Upon queries, the sources in the government later told Dawn that Mr Imran Amin had actually attended the meeting as the acting chairman of PIDA. Under the ordinance, the federal government is required to 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.

Keeping parliament out of the loop, President Arif Alvi on August 31 promulgated the PIDA Ordinance 2020 to allow the federal government to take control of the two islands — Bundal and Buddo— along the Karachi coast 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, duty-free areas and international tourist destinations.

The promulgation of the PIDA Ordinance triggered a criticism from the ruling party of Sindh as Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari equated the move with the illegal annexation of India-held Jammu and Kashmir by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi last year.

Terming the step “illegal annexation of Sindh’s islands through the presidential ordinance by the PTI government”, the PPP chairman alleged that 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.

Speaking at a news conference after his meeting with the prime minister, Sindh Governor Imran Ismail said the Sindh government had failed to understand the importance of the Bundal Island project.

Accompanying Maritime Affairs Minister Ali Zaidi, the governor said there were some confusions in the Sindh government, declaring that these islands would remain part of the province.

Mr Ismael said the major chunk of revenues generated from the project would go to Sindh and the only interest that federal government had in the project was foreign investments amounting to around $50 billion which would help strengthen foreign exchange reserves.

Apart from huge foreign investments, he said, Bundal Island would generate around 150,000 jobs and around 4 to 5 million tourists were expected to visit the area annually.

He said Ravi city and Bundal Island were two cities being developed in the country in around five decades after the federal capital, Islamabad, was established.

Apparently contradicting the governor, Mr Zaidi stated that Bundal Island was under the Port Qasim Authority (PQA) as per the coordinates established in 1973 and lease to establish a base there was given by Port Qasim to Pakistan Navy, and it was a federal land.

On Tuesday, Mr Zaidi had posted on social media a provincial government letter, dated July 6, 2020, through which it had made “available” Bundal Island to the federal government.

Also, the Sindh cabinet in its Tuesday’s 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.

Meanwhile, the prime minister also presided over a weekly meeting of the National Coordination Committee for Housing, Construction and Development on Thursday in which he was given a detailed briefing on the commencement of work on stalled projects of the federal government agencies.

The prime minister also met a delegation of the country’s renowned industrialists and representatives of Karachi’s trade organisations. The delegation also apprised the prime minister of the difficulties faced by the business community.

Earlier, presiding over a meeting of the National Coordination Committee for SMEs, the prime minister directed the minister for industries to finalise the roadmap based on timelines for implementation of the proposed SME policy in consultation with provinces at the earliest.

Published in Dawn, October 9th, 2020