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Sunday July 21, 2024

PAC orders clearing of railway land from illegal occupants

By Asim Yasin
June 08, 2023

ISLAMABAD: The Public Accounts Committee was informed Wednesday the railway land worth Rs. 4.4 billion has been encroached upon, with 14,000 acres illegally occupied. The Public Accounts Committee directed an operation to put an end to land encroachment by starting from Peshawar. Furthermore, the committee mandated that no officer should hold a position in the railways for more than three years. Under the chairmanship of Noor Alam Khan, the Public Accounts Committee held a meeting to examine the audit paras pertaining to the Ministry of Railways for the financial year 2019-20.

Chairman Noor Alam Khan expressed concern about the allocation of railway land for housing societies and said that any officer or individual, including minister(s), who made wrongful decisions will be held accountable. He said that a significant amount of the railways’ land, including 138 acres in his city, has been encroached upon. He stressed the need to take decisive action, starting with preventing encroachment in Peshawar and holding railway employees accountable. PAC member Syed Tariq Hussain highlighted the fact that people have occupied the railway land for decades without being evicted. He stressed the importance of finding a solution to this problem.

The secretary acknowledged that this is an ongoing issue that includes agricultural and commercial lands. He assured the committee that efforts are being made to remove encroachments and take action against those responsible. The committee raised questions regarding how the encroachers have access to electricity and gas. In response, the PAC directed a cut in gas and electricity connections provided to the encroachers. During the examination of audit paras, committee members were informed that the railway land, parking stands, and luggage vans were leased out at low rates, resulting in a loss of Rs 620 million. The committee ordered summoning the responsible officers to provide an explanation. Chairman Noor Alam Khan suggested replacing diesel engines with electric engines and upgrading the railway lines. He stressed the need to switch to electric locomotives for better efficiency.

When asked about the progress of ML-1, the railway secretary said that it remains a strategic project, awaiting financing from China through the government-to-government arrangement. He mentioned that no funds have been received from CPEC yet. The secretary informed the committee that the railway bears the cost of its pension and, to address electricity expenses, they are opting for solar power. The tendering process for acquiring 550 MW solar power is underway, which is expected to save Rs 2.5 billion annually.

The PAC chairman mentioned that the finance division advised against stopping the executive allowance of the Auditor General of Pakistan. He suggested that the finance and audit authorities collaborate to make a joint decision regarding the allowance. Expressing displeasure at the absence of the secretary of Planning and Development, the committee issued instructions to summon him secretary to the next meeting. The chairman warned that action would be taken if the secretary fails to attend the subsequent meeting.