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MURREE, Feb 22: Precious land worth billions of rupees located in the heart of Bhurban was allegedly leased out to an influential group at a throwaway price in 1985 by the then Punjab government of Nawaz Sharif.

About 80 kanals (10 acres) forest land was leased out to Hashoo Group against a nominal rate of Rs80 per kanal per year, Dawn has learnt.

Later, another 40 kanals (five acres) were allegedly leased out at the same rate on which now stands a five-star hotel (Pearl Continental).

When contacted, Murree Town Nazim Sardar Saleem Khan admitted that more than 50 kanals of forest land had been leased out to the hotel management, and two Punjab ministers were principal architects of the agreement.

Former chairman union council Bhurban Hafeez Abbasi alleged that apart from this land the hotel management had encroached upon 100 kanals.

Another precious forest land worth billions of rupees near Lawrence College was leased out to the then Punjab Minister for Communication and Works Col (retired) Yameen Satti for Rs160 per kanal per year in 1992 when Nawaz Sharif was prime minister.

Six acres (48 kanals) land was leased out for fifty years to Yameen Satti - three acres (24 kanals) in the municipal forest compartment No 28 Murree and three acres (24 kanals) in the compartment No 36 Patriata. Besides, the lessee occupied six acres in the municipal forest Murrree compartment No 28 as Patriata was not developed at that time.

According to the town nazim and some notables of the area, on this land Blue Pines Inn was constructed which was owned jointly by the former PIA chairman Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, MNA; former chairman Murree-Kahuta Development Authority Brig (retired) Taj Abbasi, and former provincial minister Col Yameen Satti.

According to the agreement, the rent for these lands would be increased by 25 per cent after every five years.

The then deputy commissioner signed the lease agreement on behalf of the Punjab governor.

The nazim said according to law, the then municipal committee was supposed to be a party in the whole deal but it was ignored.

Hafiz Saeed Abbasi, president Rural Areas Development Organisation, a local NGO working for the protection of forests, environment and rural development, claimed that it was the biggest land scandal in the history of Murree.

He said his NGO was collecting information and details about the land and would move the court.

When contacted, Bilal Yameen Satti, son of Col (retired) Yameen Satti, said his late father had not done anything against the law. He said his father had obtained the land when it was not as precious as it was today.

He said the construction was carried out strictly according to the lease agreement and not a single violation was made.

Mr Satti said the land was originally leased out to his father and the two other persons were made partners later which was not in the lease document.

He said if the huge precious land could be leased out to outsiders then why not to the sons of the soil.

When the administration of five-star hotel (PC Bhurban) was contacted, its director public relations Mian Khalid Mehmood said when the deal was signed in 1986, the land was not as precious as it was today.

He said the total leased land to the hotel was 15 acres (120 kanals) of which five acres were leased on higher rate, but he could not give figures.