PM’s aide Zulfi Bukhari steps down over ring road scam

Published May 18, 2021
This file photo shows Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari. — DawnNewsTV/File
This file photo shows Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari. — DawnNewsTV/File

• Aviation minister to take up issue in cabinet meeting today
• Rawalpindi NAB asked to ensure merit-based probe

ISLAMABAD: As the Rawalpindi Ring Road (RRR) project controversy deepens, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Zulfiqar Abbas Bukhari (Zulfi Bukhari) on Monday resigned from his position and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar rejected giving benefit to a private housing society while offering to quit politics if corruption charges against him in the mega scandal proved.

According to senior official of the Punjab government, the RRR case has been referred to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and the Anti-Corruption Department (ACD) of Punjab for thorough investigations on the directive of Prime Minister Imran Khan after two separate fact-finding reports — one from Rawalpindi commissioner and the other from deputy commissioner and additional commissioner — landed at PM office.

As Rawalpindi director general of NAB was directed to conduct a transparent, merit-based and indiscriminate probe into the matter allegedly involving billion of rupees of corruption, irregularities and illegal land acquisition, the federal minister for aviation told a presser that he would take up the matter in the federal cabinet meeting on Tuesday (today).

Also, PM’s aide Zulfi Bukhari resigned from his position days after a major opposition party blamed him for being one of the direct beneficiaries of the realignment of RRR project. Besides Mr Bukhari and Mr Sarwar, allegations were also levelled against Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Background information obtained by Dawn revealed that principal approval of new alignment of RRR and land acquisition for it in Islamabad, Rawalpindi and Attock was given by Prime Minister Imran Khan and Punjab government had released funds for land acquisition without formally approving the new alignment of the road.

The fact-finding report that the commissioner had prepared in 10 days stated that some officials of Rawalpindi division, Punjab were involved in the scam and some housing societies were benefitted when the alignment of the road was changed.

The Rawalpindi ring road was originally designed from Rewat (Radio Station) to Turnol via Murat on GT Road but after realignment, its termination point was changed to Islamabad-Lahore Motorway (M1). The project was conceived during the last Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) regime in 2016 and later discussed with the Chinese government as well.

A source said Mr Bukhari on Monday called on Prime Minister Khan who asked him to resign. In a statement, the PM’s aide said he would not join the federal cabinet unless he was declared ‘innocent’.

The fact-finding report accused Mr Bukhari of giving benefits to his relatives, including Tauqeer Shah, former principal staff officer to ex-CM Shehbaz Sharif, in acquisition of their land in Sangjani.

NAB to probe RRR project

Meanwhile, an official press release issued by the NAB headquarters said NAB chairman Javed Iqbal directed Rawalpindi NAB director general to conduct “transparent, merit-based and indiscriminate probe of Rawalpindi Ring Road project in which billion of rupee corruption, irregularities and illegal land acquisition has been reported”.

The NAB chairman also directed the Rawalpindi NAB to cover all aspects of the project in the probe so that responsibility could be fixed against all those allegedly involved in corruption and corrupt practices and culprits be brought to justice as per law, it said.

The bureau had no affiliation with any political party, group or individual, but state of Pakistan, the NAB chairman claimed.

PM aware of realignment

The minutes of a meeting on RRR project and Margalla Road held on Feb 4, 2021, which was chaired by PM Khan, said: “Keeping in mind the original alignment of Margalla Highway, part of Ring Road falling in Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) shall be acquired and developed by Capital Development Authority (CDA) from its own resources. This will be connected with RRR leading to M1 (Islamabad-Lahore Motorway) eventually. CDA will acquire right of way (ROW) for the road in Zone-II for development and beyond the ROW, the area will be fenced to make it controlled access.

“The eastward portion from M1, falling in Punjab be constructed and fenced by the government of Punjab.”

The document available with Dawn has cleared an ambiguity about whether the prime minister and Punjab CM Buzdar were aware of the realignment of the ring road.

However, some senior Punjab government officials argued the PM and the CM had never given approval to the new alignment but had only approved the land acquisition plan. They had no answer why funds were released for land acquisition plan if the realignment had not been approved by the competent authority.

They said the first alignment of the road was designed by Nespak in 2017 from T-Chowk Rewat to Murat, but next year another consultant called Zeerak proposed realignment of the ring road from T-Chowk to M-I motorway, which was also endorsed by Nespak in 2021 with the observation “the best alignment in accordance with the technical standard was proposed that reduces multiple curves ensuring design speed of 120kph with control access.”

The Rawalpindi commissioner’s report also named some private housing societies, which were far from the original ring road plan but benefitted through the realignment. It alleged that ex-commissioner retired Capt Mehmood and suspended Land Acquisition commissioner Waseem Tabish wrongly paid Rs2.3 billion in compensation of land acquired in the Attock area.

Aviation minister

In a press conference, Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan, who belongs to Taxila, rejected the commissioner’s fact-finding report and said: “The report has no authenticity once it was rejected by majority—two members.”

He said neither he nor any of his family members had obtained any benefit from RRR but his name was maligned in the media. “I will take legal action against those who maligned me and will take up the issue in the federal cabinet meeting being held on Tuesday,” he added.

Responding to a question, the minister said the Civil Aviation Authority had not given a No-Objection Certificate (NOC) to a private housing scheme, Nova City, but the permission to build 180-foot-tall buildings had been given as per prime minister’s order for the areas near airports across the country.

Published in Dawn, May 18th, 2021

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