ISLAMABAD, Jan 16: The disclosure by the government that Rs1.05 billion had been released to the Military Estate Officer (MEO), Quetta, instead of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for construction of a new international airport at the port city of Gwadar created an uproar in the senate here on Tuesday that led to the opposition members’ walkout during the question hour.

Federal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Dr Sher Afgan, who was giving replies to supplementary questions on behalf of Defence Minister Rao Sikandar Iqbal, found himself in a difficult position when he failed to explain the logic as to why the money had been released to the MEO, instead of the CAA.

It all started when Kamran Murtaza of the Muttahida Majlis-i-Amal objected to the written reply submitted by the defence minister that the federal government had released funds amounting to Rs1.05 billion to the MEO, Quetta, for acquisition of land measuring 6,500 acres for the new airport at Gwadar. The minister had stated that construction of the airport would be completed in two years and the work was expected to commence this year. “What is the relevance of the MEO, Quetta, in construction of the Gwadar airport?” asked Senator Murtaza.

The parliamentary affairs minister, instead of replying to the specific question, once again started reading the written reply of the ministry.

The opposition members stood up and started crying “why, why” and “shame, shame.” Interestingly, none of the ministers present in the senate came for the rescue of Sher Afgan on the issue.

Taking the floor, opposition leader Raza Rabbani said the MEO dealt only with military lands and cantonments. He said if the money had been given to the MEO then it showed that perhaps a military airport was being constructed at Gwadar. He questioned as to why the money was not given to MEOs when new airports were constructed in Karachi and Lahore. Similarly, he said, the government had given money to the CAA for land acquisition for construction of a new airport in Islamabad.

Mr Rabbani said if the government intended to build a military airport at Gwadar then it was violation of recommendations of the Balochistan parliamentary committee, headed by Mushahid Hussain, which had declared that no cantonments would be established in Balochistan.

The house witnessed rumpus when Mr Afgan again took the floor and said the MEO had been given the money to deliver it to the CAA. He, however, was not allowed to speak by the opposition members.

Mr Rabbani said if it was the case then the minister should tell as to who would be getting benefit from this deal. He further said the government’s reply was also highlighting the new role of military generals in purchasing precious lands and it seemed that the generals had purchased the lands and now they were leasing it out to the CAA.

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