Prime Minister Imran Khan on Friday lauded the Punjab chief minister for "demolishing the palaces of qabza groups (land grabbers)" and said that going after "big thieves" indicated real change.
The premier was speaking at a ceremony in Sahiwal, days after the Punjab government demolished 'Khokhar Palace' which belonged to the family of PML-N MNA Afzal Khokar and MPA Saiful Malook Khokhar.
The prime minister, without naming the Khokhar family or PML-N supremo Nawaz Sharif, accused the previous government of protecting "Lahore's biggest qabza group".
"I saw a palace falling," said the prime minister. "Lahore's biggest qabza group which was being backed by the previous prime minister and his family. Land was being grabbed in their presence [in fact] they protected them. So who was protecting the qabza group? The prime minister and his government."
PM Imran said that lower-income people and overseas Pakistanis who wished to buy property were helpless before land grabbing mafias.
"People ask what is tabdeeli (change)? This is tabdeeli when big thieves are caught," he declared. He further said that a country cannot progress until there is rule of law.
He said that Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar, who was also attending the ceremony, was called as a "shy chief minister" who does not spend billions in advertisements and did not roam around in convoys comprising 40 cars.
"But this is the real work," the premier said, referring to the provincial government's efforts to curb land grabbing and apprehend those guilty of the crime.
During the ceremony, the premier also announced healthcare coverage of up to Rs750,000 for all Sahiwal residents and promised that by December of this year, all of Punjab will be provided with free healthcare.
He also talked about the government's plantation drive, saying that his administration was going for "reforestation" on lands that were captured by land grabbers who had cut down trees.
'Age of massive modern urbanisation'
Punjab Chief Minister Usman Buzdar also addressed the event and hailed Sahiwal as "an important region of Punjab which is quickly coming to the front in terms of administrative and business opportunities."
He said there was "extreme potential here for agro-based industries" and under the auspices of the PTI government, "Harappa and Chichawatni will also be equal partners" in Sahiwal's development.
The Punjab chief minister further announced development packages and projects worth Rs200 billion regarding education, health, road development, sports complex, parks, underpass, water supply and sewerage.
He also announced other projects for Sahiwal:
- Punjab Intermediate Cities Improvement Investment Programme
- Segregated plot and waste management training academy
- Ehsaas Programme
- 'Hunarmand Naujawan' programme
- Punjab Rozgar Scheme
- Institute of Cardiology with 120 bed capacity
- Upgradation of teaching hospital
- Universal Healthcare Programme
He also added that his government would consult with the National Highway Authority to connect Sahiwal with the motorway and announced initiatives such as dualisation of Chichawatni-Rajana M-3 link and the repair of Sahiwal-Faisalabad road.
"Punjab is now entering the age of massive modern urbanisation," said the chief minister, adding that under the auspices of the Asian Development Bank, a programme for provision of modern municipal services was also being started with the prime minister already having launched it in Sialkot.
He also stated that Sahiwal was "the centre of livestock in the province but no one made the effort to devise a livestock policy for Punjab." He stated that his government was preparing the first livestock policy for Punjab which will be presented before the budget this year.
Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Climate Change Malik Amin Aslam also announced 30 water filtration plants for Sahiwal which would benefit 0.5 million people and a forest area spread on 100 acres. He said Chichawatni would be declared a sanctuary to preserve forestation.
Demolition of Khokhar properties
The Punjab government had on Sunday demolished several structures around houses of the Khokhar brothers and their relatives near Johar Town in a day-long operation. The development came more than a month after the Federal Investigation Agency opened an investigation against the Khokhar brothers for their alleged involvement in money laundering and land grabbing.
The structures razed during the operation included houses of Akmal Khokhar and Tahir Javaid (close relatives of Afzal and Saiful Malook), a market, back walls and shanties temporarily made by the workers.
According to city district administration, the team retrieved 38 kanal land from the illegal possession of the Khokhar brothers.
“The total worth of the land is about Rs1.25bn,” a spokesman for the administration said in a press release. He accused the Khokhar brothers of grabbing the land through forgery.
“Before launching operation, notices were also issued to Khokhar brothers,” he explained, adding that various structures and shops were demolished during the operation that was supervised by the SSP (operations) and additional district collector revenue (ADCR).
“The retrieved land has been handed over to the Punjab government,” he said.
The operation was widely condemned by the PML-N as an extreme action to punish supporters of the opposition Pakistan Democratic Movement. The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Tuesday restrained the district government from further demolishing Khokhar Palace among other properties and directed both sides to approach the civil court for the resolution of the dispute.
"I have come to know that this person whose name is Imran Khan, personally sat down and was monitoring the operation," party vice-president Maryam Nawaz had alleged, saying this measure had come after attempts to pressurise the Khokhar brothers and holders of political office in the PML-N.