Govt depts barred from buying land for housing projects

Published November 3, 2021
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry addresses a press conference. — DawnNewsTV
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry addresses a press conference. — DawnNewsTV

• Cabinet abolishes quotas in government housing schemes
• Minister claims prices of food items, fuels lowest in region
• PM to unveil ‘big relief package’ today
• CEO of ‘non-operational’ PSM given one-year extension

ISLAMABAD: The government on Tuesday barred all federal institutions from acquiring land for housing purposes, besides abolishing all quotas in the government housing schemes, except for its own employees.

The decision was taken at a meeting of the cabinet presided over by Prime Minister Imran Khan. It claimed that despite unprecedented inflation, prices of essential items in Pakistan were still lower than those in the whole South Asian region, including India, Bangla­desh and Afghanistan.

The cabinet was told that Prime Minister Khan would unveil a “big relief package” in an address to the nat­ion on Wednesday (today), whi­ch would benefit over 53 per cent inflation-hit population.

“The cabinet has decided that no federal government institution will acquire land from the locals in Islamabad in future,” Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry said at a post-cabinet meeting press conference.

Planning and Develop­ment Minister Asad Umar, meanwhile, said in a tweet: “Today decades-old unjust system under which land was acquired forcibly from locals of Islamabad has [been] ended by the cabinet. Such people’s friendly decision can be taken only [by] the government of Imran Khan.”

However, a senior government officer told Dawn on condition of anonymity that the government had virtually abolished its own flagship Naya Pakistan Housing Programme (NPHP) as the authorities concerned like the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) and Naya Pakistan Housing Authority (NPHA) would not be able to acquire land for providing housing units to the needy people on affordable rates.

He said it would also be unfair for the people who had already received payments of their land in any award of land (fixing of government price for land) as those who had not received it as yet would get market price of the land.

“Now there is a lacuna: who will ascertain the market price of land — seller or purchaser,” he said, adding that before this decision the deputy commissioners concerned announced the award of the land.

Fawad Chaudhry said it was decided that the prime minister’s discretionary powers to allot plots would be abolished. “The prime minister has not used that discretionary power so far,” he claimed.

The minister said a detailed briefing on comparison of commodities’ prices with other regional countries was given to the cabinet and assured that prices in Pakistan were lowest in the region. “Fuel prices in Pakistan are still lowest as compared to those in non-oil producing countries,” he claimed.

The minister said wheat flour price in Pakistan was Rs60.9 per kilogram, while it stood at Rs83 in India and Bangladesh and around Rs73 per kg in Afghanistan.

Likewise, the price of gram pulse is Rs146.77 per kg in Pakistan, Rs166 in India and Rs224 in Bangladesh. He said the price of Mash pulse in Pakistan was Rs245.84 per kg, while in India, Bangladesh and Afghanistan, it was being sold at Rs244, Rs334 and Rs214, respectively.

The minister said the price of onion in Pakistan was Rs47.14 per kg, while in India and Bangladesh, it was Rs95 and Rs121, respectively. The price of chicken in Pakistan is Rs254.92 per kg, while in India and Bangladesh, it is selling at Rs438 and Rs324, respectively. He said the price of petrol in Pakistan was Rs138.73 per litre, while it was Rs258 in India and Rs180 in Bangladesh.

The minister said the poverty level in those countries with whom the comparison was drawn was higher than Pakistan as per the latest World Bank report. Drawing inter-provincial comparison of edibles, he said a 20kg wheat flour bag was available at Rs1,100 in Rawalpindi, whereas in Karachi its price was Rs1,470.

Similarly, sugar price in Rawalpindi was Rs90 per kg, whereas in Karachi it was being sold at Rs120. He said the price of Moong pulse was Rs148 per kg in Punjab, while in Karachi its rate was Rs196. Gram pulse price is Rs153 per kg in Islamabad and Rs164 in Karachi.

The minister lashed out at the Sindh government for failing to control the prices of commodities and asked PPP chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari to rather hold a protest against inflation next time before the Sindh Chief Minister House. He said the Sindh government needed to improve its governance so that people could get some relief in the wake of high inflation in the province.

The cabinet also decided that a new Federal Government Properties Management Authority (FGPMA) will be formed to manage the federal government’s immovable assets through public-private partnership. It appointed Doctor Inayat Husain as Deputy Governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.

The information minister said of Pakistan Steel Mills Chief Executive Officer retired Brig Shuja Hassan had been given extension for one year.

The cabinet took the decision despite the fact that the PSM has been not-functional for the past several years.

The minister said the government had fixed minimum wages for labourers, but it did not want to intervene in the private sector beyond a certain limit. However, steps were being taken to create business-friendly environment. “It is a responsibility of those industries of private sector which have earned record profits during the coronavirus pandemic to pass on the relief to their employees by increasing salaries,” he added.

About the third amendment to the NAB ordinance, he urged the media to consult their legal advisers when they were reporting on a legal matter and said the power given to the president for removal of the NAB chairman was not subservient to the prime minister’s advice.

The cabinet rejected a proposal for suspending duty on vintage cars import for one year, he added.

The cabinet, on the request of the housing ministry, approved amendments to Rules of Business 1973 to enable the ministries of foreign affairs and defence to solely look after their buildings. If both the ministries want to start any new project, they would have to take a no-objection-certificate from the housing ministry.

The minister said the ex-officio directors has been nominated for 13 companies under the Ministry of Energy (Petroleum Division), while additional charge for CEO Central Power generation company and Lakhra Power generation company had been given to Muhammad Salman Malik and Tanvir Ahmed Jafri, respectively.

Retired Lt Gen Javed Mahmood Bukhari, Rector NUST University and Engineer, Rehan Abdul Baqi, Vice Chancellor of Institute of Space Technology, have been appointed as members of the Pakistan Engineering Council for a time period of 2021- 24.

The minister said support price of wheat had been discussed in detail at the meeting. Senior cabinet members, including Shah Mahmood Qureshi, Hammad Azhar and Khusro Bakhtiar, have been made members of the committee that has been constituted to review support price on wheat. “Our issue is that if we increase support price of wheat, the rate of wheat flour also goes up, so we have to achieve a balance in this regard,” Fawad Chaudhry said.

Published in Dawn, November 3rd, 2021

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