LAHORE: Minister for Railways Khwaja Saad Rafique terms the 2019 Supreme Court’s verdict on the issue of land lease damaging to revenue, claiming it has caused billions of rupees loss annually to the cash-starved department that continues to be in trouble even in clearing dues of its employees and pensioners timely.
He also appealed to the Supreme Court to accept the [railways] review petition and allow the department to giving its land for commercial purpose for a period of at least 20 years or so that the Pakistan Railways could increase its revenue and come out of the acute financial crisis it has been facing for the last four years or so.
“The Supreme Court’s verdict allows the railways to use its land for its core businesses alone and not other purposes (giving land on lease up to 99 years for commercial purposes). Due to this, we only earned a revenue of Rs2.7 billion last year that could have been increased up to Rs7bn,” the minister told journalists at a press conference on Tuesday. “As a result of this decision the PR faced billions of rupees loss,” he said.
It merits mentioning that in January 2019, the apex court’s [then] three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Saqib Nisar while hearing a case related to the PR’s land lease at throwaway prices, had reportedly ordered the department to not sell its land or lease it out for more than five years.
Says SC’s verdicts caused huge revenue loss
The then minister, Sheikh Rashid, who was present in the court, had assured the bench that PR would not sell “even one marla of land.” However, he apprised the court that some land was leased out for three to five years, against which the department has been receiving Rs3bn annual income. And if the court terminated the leases, the railways would suffer financial losses.
Similarly, in another case in June 2021 at Karachi registry, an apex court bench headed by the then CJP Gulzar Ahmad had expressed resentment over accidents and reported plans to sell its land in Sindh and ruled that the railways land would not be allowed to be leased out or transferred to any private person or employees, but only to be used for operational purposes. Since the PR, in the light of these verdicts has been unable to lease out even its one square foot land to anyone, its revenue drastically dropped in almost two years.
The minister said had the SC patiently heard the arguments from the PR’s legal team and allowed it to go for a medium-term land lease for commercial purposes to the private organisations, it would have helped increase revenue by three times.
“I am confident to say that there was no scam of the PR’s land in the last 10 years,” he claimed.
Talking about financial crisis the department has been facing under other heads, Mr Rafique said the PR had suffered Rs16bn loss in the wake of rising prices of petroleum products and dollar exchange rate during a year. Moreover, the recent floods also inflicted a huge infrastructural and financial loss since August this year. “There are two ways to reduce this financial stress. The first is to beg to the federal government that is already under immense financial burden. And the second is to cut our costs and increase revenue through land lease, improve freight and passenger train operations and rationalise fares/charges,” he said, adding that the PR finally decided to go for the second option.
He said the private parties usually don’t take the railway land on lease for five years. Therefore, the PR wants SC to allow it leasing out its land, which is 175,000 acres, for commercial purpose for a medium-term lease - 20 years or so.
He said in a bid to cope with the challenge, the PR has decided to allow the private housing schemes to use its land for construction of underpasses and other infrastructures. “But for this, the applicants seeking passages from the PR would have to deposit Rs100 million (each) as processing fee. The other decision, according to him, the PR management took in a meeting on Tuesday, was closing down the loss-making trains, rationalising fares, freight charges, increasing freight operations on Quetta-Taftan rail track and laying of the optic fibre along the track by private parties. “We are also closing down two Lahore-Rawalpindi rail car trains, launched as a stop gap arrangement,” he said, adding that the iron bridge damaged by floods, disconnecting rail link between Balochistan and Punjab, would be built soon, as the NLC is working hard on this project worth Rs500m.
To a question, he said the PR administration has declined to accept resignation of a senior PR officer Mian Tariq Latif.
He told a questioner that Shehbaz Sharif would soon depart for China where he would talk on the issue of ML-1 and KCR projects.
Published in Dawn, October 5th, 2022