LAHORE: Punjab Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) on Wednesday arrested former commissioner of Rawalpindi retired Capt Muhammad Mahmood and land acquisition collector Abbas Tabish for their alleged involvement in the ring road scam.
ACE Director General (DG) Gohar Nafees, addressing a press conference, said a case was registered against the former commissioner and director of Rawalpindi ring road project and land acquisition collector after holding a detailed inquiry.
He said neither approval was sought from Punjab chief minister for alignment of the ring road, nor any no objection certificates (NOCs) were taken from the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the National Highway Authority (NHA).
“The design of the project was changed to add new interchanges and the length of the road was increased from 22 kilometres to 68kms and the last two kilometres would fall under the Islamabad Capital Territory,” he said.
Anti-graft body’s DG says no investment by any politician traced
Sources claimed that the ring road’s new alignment would benefit more than 50 influential people, real estate dealers and people connected with the project who had purchased 64,000 kanal land.
An initial report had mentioned some members of federal cabinet were allegedly also among beneficiaries of the ring road scam.
Following the report, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister (SAPM) on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari had to resign from the post, while Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had denied the allegation in a press conference.
The report of ring road scam inquiry conducted by the ACE available with Dawn revealed that the original map was changed and several new routes and interchanges were included in it to benefit various housing societies. The changes in the alignment increased the project cost to Rs25 billion. He said the previous government had approved the alignment of the ring road in 2018, and it was changed by the Rawalpindi’s former commissioner Mr Mahmood.
“The change of alignment resulted in increasing the project and land costs,” he said.
He said a private company, Zeeruk, was hired as consultancy for the road’s alignment and designing bridges, but no permission was sought from the government in this regards. He added that the project director had claimed that permission would be sought from the chief minister soon. He said that without seek any permission the project was given to Nespak.
“Without any need, the routes were opened for the local transport, benefiting the housing societies owners,” he said.
Mr Nafees said due to the new alignment, the CDA land was included in the project and advertisements were released without seeking its permission.
He said it was not decided to include a new portion in the ring road and before changing the alignment of the road, Rs2.6 billion were spent on purchasing the land. The government had later announced the establishment of the Punjab Ring Road Authority to complete the project, but the commissioner continued working on it, he added.
Moreover, he said, costly land was purchased in Attock from an unauthorised person, while less amount was spent on purchasing land in Rawalpindi. He said different tactics were used to purchase costly land from the residents of Attock, which caused a huge loss to the exchequer.
He said former commissioner and land acquisition chairman were arrested and were also being interrogated to identify others who benefited from the scam, adding action would also be taken against them.
The DG said some big developers of housing societies in the area were authorised to establish five interchanges on the ring road.
“This process will benefit the developers who could build interchanges anywhere to establish housing societies and charge the residents at their will,” he said.
He said no permission was sought from the authorities concerned after developing the Attock side of the ring road.
“Nova Housing Society was involved in selling its one file for Rs10 million, and had earned a total Rs1.5 billion from files sale,” he said.
He said cases against the housing societies were forwarded to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), as there were thousands of affectees and the ACE would deal with those cheating the government.
Replying to a query about the involvement of politicians in the scam, he said the ACE could not find any direct investment by any politician, however, benami investments had been found from different countries, including Dubai.
He said the former commissioner and project director of Rawalpindi Ring Road also lied to Prime Minister Imran Khan in a meeting by telling him that the design of the road was not being changed and only service roads were being established along the ring road to benefit housing societies.
About any political pressure with regard to the case, Mr Nafees said for the first time a commissioner was arrested in a corruption case, and it was a proof there was no political or any other pressure on the ACE.
He said the ACE was also probing into benefit, if any, taken in allotment matters and the money earned.
“We have to investigate who took the money,” he added.
He said the former commissioner had changed the project and without getting approval of allotment had issued an authority letter, increased the length of the ring road and spent Rs2.6bn without any approval.
“The cost of land acquisition was increased from Rs6bn to Rs16bn.”
Published in Dawn, July 15th, 2021