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KARACHI: Fate of PIA's planetarium hangs in balance

August 02, 2004

KARACHI, Aug 1: The fate of PIA's planetarium hangs in the balance as the owner of the land on which it is established wants the land back for its use, it is reliably learnt on Saturday.

According to the sources, the national carrier had set up the educational facility on University Road on the advice of the former president Gen Ziaul Haq in early 1980s. The land on which it was established was owned by the Export Promotion Bureau and was not in its use at that time, sources said.

However, they added, the EPB had later established Expo Centre on its land and planned expansion for which further land was required. The sources said that the PIA had given a portion of the area to another private party, which had established a marriage garden there.

The step was probably taken to reduce the losses being faced by the PIA on operating the planetarium. They said that PIA chief Ahmed Saeed had recently met EPB chief Tariq Ikram to resolve the issue. In the meeting, the PIA chief maintained that it would not pay any rent to the EPB, as the land was given free of cost for the PIA planetarium in 1980s.

The PIA maintained that since the planetarium was a losing proposition and the airline had invested a large amount in its equipment and building, it could not continue incurring such losses in future.

The PIA asked the EPB to get the president's directive, under which the planetarium was established, revoked through a formal approval of the present government. It is learnt that the PIA has also chalked out a tentative plan of dismantling the project.

The PIA will serve notice to the management of marriage garden to hand over the land to the EPB free of any encumbrance. In case the government decides to revoke the earlier order regarding the planetarium, depending on terms and conditions, on which the land/ structure is to be handed over to the EPB an exercise will be carried out to estimate the PIA's assets and liabilities.

According to the sources, the PIA maintained that the planetarium could not be relocated as it was an old and high precision equipment, besides it did not have an alternative piece of land where this educational facility could be shifted.

They said that the planetarium was of high scientific educational value particularly for students, who could easily get information about the universe through its an hour-long audio- visual programme.

Responding to Dawn queries on Saturday, EPB chief Tariq Ikram from Kenya said that he had held a meeting with PIA chief Ahmed Saeed to resolve the issue amicably. He said that since the planetarium was not a commercially viable project and a losing proposition, the PIA itself was not interested to continue with it. Besides, he added, it was not the job of an airline to operate a planetarium.

Tariq Ikram said that the land had been given to the PIA as it was not in EPB use in early 1980s. He said that the PIA was now being asked to return the land for expansion of the Expo Centre.

He said that Ahmed Saeed had agreed to close down or shift the planetarium in principle, but asked for some time till he could get the decision approved by the PIA's board.

He said that the date had not been finalized, however, it had been decided that the PIA would return the land to the EPB. Since both the organizations were public sector bodies, the EPB was not exerting any pressure on the PIA to vacate the land.