ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Pakistan Railways (PR) to seek authorisation from the federal government and parliament to develop a lawful regulatory regime for utilising its unused land to generate much-needed funds.
The order came after it emerged that out of 169,128 acres of Railways land, 6,000 acres scattered all over the country were not being utilised for any purpose.
Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Umar Ata Bandial, a three-judge SC bench had taken up a plea by PR to review its June 14, 2021 order in which the apex court had held that not an inch of Railways land will be sold, transferred, leased or handed over to a private person; rather all PR land has to be used for its operational purposes only.
The court noted that out of 169,128 acres of land, 126,426 acres were being used for operational purposes, 16,742 acres has been earmarked for future expansion, 9,985 acres have been identified to be under unauthorised possession of encroachers whereas 10,750 acres has been leased out for a number of purposes.
The court however emphasised that without changing the nature, the lands could be used for public or different purposes without causing harm to its original nature for generating funds.
6,000 acres of PR land scattered across the country is not being utilised for any purpose
Meanwhile Barrister Zafarullah Khan, representing PR, withdrew the business plan furnished before the apex court for utilising the Railways lands stating that the Ministry of Railways will frame a policy for approval of the cabinet as well as parliament for a proper statute or rules.
Secretary PR Board told the court that the Railways was collecting Rs2.2 billion annually through leasing out different lands to private parties but needed permission of the court to grant lease for a longer period of time. PR is haemorrhaging funds to the tune of Rs42bn in annual pension payments, therefore it has to request a Rs45-50bn grant from the government annually to meet its budgetary requirements, he explained.
PR is requesting the court that such a large tract of land, ie 6,000 acres, requires management and protection from encroachments apart from utilising its potential for generating revenue to the benefit of the organisation and the state.
In its order the court said ambitious targets have been disclosed by PR in the business plan for commercialisation of its land but the court was not concerned with such plans since it has no expertise to judge the viability of such proposals.
For development programmes or proposals, PR must have legal backing to undertake such ventures from the forums (parliament) which authorise such utilisation, the order dictated by CJP said.
The court observed that the protection of lands against encroachment was a beneficial act for generating revenue for the organisation by placing the unutilised lands to third-party interest without damaging the original nature of the land as well as discouraging environmental degradation and also creating local employment.
It emerged during the hearing, the court noted, that another aspect of utilising Railway lands could be public works initiated by the PR or any other government bodies.
Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2023
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