RAWALPINDI, July 14: Punjab's housing department has developed a housing scheme for the poor in Jhelum but instead of celebrating the event it is ruing the day.

“It took us 11 years to complete the scheme - only to be told to redesign it to the credit of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif's Ashiana scheme,” an official of the department in Jhelum told Dawn on condition of anonymity.

DCO Jhelum Mirza Mehmoodul Hassan confirmed that the housing society developed over 100 acres had been taken over by the populist Ashiana Housing Scheme.

There was nothing wrong in the move as the poor remain the ultimate beneficiaries, he asserted.

“We have started re-designing the housing society according to the standard plot sizes of Ashiana Housing Scheme. The Punjab government would bear the expenses and maintenance of the housing society from now onwards,” the official said.

However this very aspect hurts the department people most, after the feeling of being robbed of credit for developing the scheme against all odds.

They pointed out that the Housing Department planned to allot the 1,110 five-marla plots it has developed for the people whose monthly income was Rs15,000 whereas Ashiana rules offer smaller plots of three marlas to people having higher income of Rs20,000 a month.

According to officials, the department initiated its housing project in 1995 but litigation did not allow work to begin on it until the Supreme Court decided the case in its favour in 2004.

It was frustrating for the department to see that as soon as it completed the construction of roads, provision of water and sewage facilities and electricity, its project, located on G. T. Road, was taken over by the chief minister's pet Ashiana scheme.

“We completed the project but it is the portraits of the chief minister that decorate its entrance,” said an irate official.

Moreover, the Housing Department's distribution plan offered “a fair and affordable deal” to the poor than the one Ashiana is offering.

Sources said that the housing department was all set to hold balloting for 1,110 plots in the housing scheme when the Punjab government stopped it from doing so and ordered its scheme to be renamed as Ashiana Housing Scheme.

The provincial government plans to launch Ashiana Housing Schemes in 17 districts of the province including Rawalpindi for the poor on easy instalments.

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