HYDERABAD: Accountability Court Judge Inam Ali Kalhoro has directed the Sindh National Accountability Bureau (NAB) director general to replace the officer investigating Rs4.48bn corruption case pertaining to the Right Bank Outfall Drain-II (RBOD-II).

The judge expressed his displeasure over investigation officer Waqar Anwar’s reply to the show-cause notice issued to him over his failure to file references with regard to three different FIRs against some senior irrigation officers.

The judge, during hearing of the case on Thursday, ordered that the investigation be handed over to some NAB officer and such intimation be given to the court by Oct 14. A reference be filed by NAB accordingly in the relevant FIRs of the case, the order said.

The IO in his reply to the show-cause notice had sought more time to complete his investigation, maintaining that visits to different spots of the project site were required to be paid by him.

The judge expressing his dissatisfaction over the reply noted that the investigation of alleged multi billion embezzlement in the federal government-funded RBOD-II project had been pending since January this year.

The court issued another show-cause notice to the IO after he was found absent from the hearing in the morning.

The criminal investigation of the case was earlier investigated by the provincial anti-corruption establishment (ACE) following a departmental inquiry conducted by a senior irrigation officer, Zaid Sheikh.

During on hearing of the case, the Accountability Court had issued non-bailable warrants (NBWs) for the arrest of Munawwar Bozdar, Imran Sheikh and four others. They had later appeared in court after obtaining bail from the Sindh High Court.

The investigation of the case was transferred to the Accountability Court after NAB approached Sindh government in Oct 2020 for with such plea. NAB had then filed a formal application in the court of the special judge anti-corruption (provincial) where the case was initially pending a trial.

After a departmental inquiry, the ACE had registered three FIRs – two in Jamshoro district and one in Thatta district – regarding corruption of Rs4.48bn by senior and junior irrigation officers.

According to the ACE, a fraud of Rs575.306m was detected and the matter was accordingly made part of FIR No.4/20 (Jamshoro); Rs379.744m embezzlement charges were reflected in FIR No.5/20 (Jamshoro); and Rs527.214m corruption was mentioned vide FIR No.1/20 (Thatta). Sindh ACE had claimed that the amount in question was fraudulently and illegally drawn by the suspects in collusion with contractors/companies.

RBOD-II is considered to be a vital project for the revival of Manchhar Lake, a freshwater reservoir. This 273km long drain would bypass the lake after having been connected with the Main Nara Valley Drain (MNVD) or RBOD-I through Indus Link (also a drain) to take 3,500 cusecs of effluent to Gharo Creek in Thatta. Capacity of RBOD-II was increased from 2,271 cusecs to 3,500 cusecs after then prime minister Mir Zafarullah-led PML-N government added Balo­chistan’s component of effluent in this series of drains — RBOD-I, RDOD-II an RBOD-III.

For around five years work on this key drainage project has remained suspended.

The total cost of the project has been revised twice. Its revised PC-I has now put its cost at a little over Rs61bn after the Executive Committee of National Economic Council (Ecnec) approved it a few years back.

Under the revised cost Sindh government was supposed to share its cost which was initially worked out at Rs13.055bn. The share of federal government was said to have been worked out at Rs48.930bn. The drain remained incomplete to date.

Reports also hint that Sindh government is considering handover of the RBOD-II project to Wapda for completion.

The project was started during Gen Pervez Musharraf’s government following a hue and cry over destruction of Manchhar Lake. All three drains would start working once RBOD-II is completed. The delay is attributed to belated revision of project cost in the past.

Published in Dawn, October 2nd, 2021

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