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FIA probes limitless rise

August 08, 2011

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ISLAMABAD, Aug 7: Media reports about a delay in completing high-rise residential projects in the city have sparked an investigation into how high buildings can legally go in Islamabad.

Dawn has learnt the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is probing how could the Capital Development Authority (CDA) allow “unlimited number of storeys” to a hotel-apartment complex coming up near the Convention Centre.

“Some of our relevant officials were called to the FIA headquarters on Saturday and questioned about it,” confirmed a senior CDA official. Before the project got underway, buildings up to 20 storeys were permitted in the capital city.

An FIA official, who did not wish to be named, said “more CDA officials will be questioned and the investigation is likely to be completed in four weeks.”

Former Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz is said to have directed the CDA in January 2007 to allow the builders of two hotel and apartment complexes - one in Sector F-8 and the other near the Convention Centre - to put no limit on the number of storeys they wished to build.

According to the documents seen by Dawn, the then management of CDA did not impose the height restriction on the builders of the latter project, with one official remarking “sky is the limit.” BNP, a consortium of three companies, which is executing the project planned to go up to 37 storeys.

Same relaxation was granted to the builder of the Centaurus residential-hotel complex rising in Sector F-8.

As their work progressed, and investors’ interest rose in the projects, the builders of the two complexes changed their designs to more than 40 storeys. However, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) clipped their upward flight by barring them from going beyond 30 storeys. The CAA rules do not allow buildings rising higher than 300 feet within a 15km radius of the Islamabad airport.

This height restriction delayed the completion of the projects, set for the end of this year, as the builders had to redesign their complexes.Meanwhile, the builders of the complex near the Convention Centre have filed a suit against CDA, claiming Rs6.5 billion damages for not removing what they called ‘hurdles’ in the way of their project.

BNP claims the CDA did not provide the facilities it promised when selling the project site to it for Rs4.88 billion in auction in 2007. The Centaurus builders got their land for Rs6.5 billion in the same auction.

According to the BNP, the facilities CDA promised to provide included permission to go beyond the height limit for building, electricity, water and proper sewage system.

Head of the CDA's Building Control Section Malik Murtaza said that following the CAA height embargo, the CDA had allowed BNP group to increase the number of commercial-cum-residential blocks laterally.

Meanwhile, the city managers have decided to seek help from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to get one-time waiver in CAA laws for the two under-construction five-star hotels and apartments.