Saturday December 02, 2023

Thousands of acres of evacuee land hidden: ETPB chairman

December 18, 2017

LAHORE: Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has been at the mercy of land-grabbers, as out of its total 100,000 acres of land, around 20,000 acres have been under illegal occupation of influential people and the government departments.

Thousands of acres of the evacuee land are hidden and not in the know of the institution. The ETPB chairman said some employees of the board were also involved in the issue as they avoid sharing any information with the institution. He said he would launch an advertisement campaign, inviting people to point out the hidden land. The names of the people giving information would be kept secret.

At the same time, the management of the ETPB is also facing hurdles in retrieving their 20 per cent prized land from the land-grabbers because over 1,000 cases relating to its properties and lands are also pending with various courts of the country, claimed ETPB Chairman Muhammad Siddiqul Farooq during his exclusive interview with The News and Jang. He, however, avoided sharing names of the illegal occupants as well as the departments.

The occupied ETPB lands are mainly located in Southern Zone (Sindh and Balochistan), where out of 21,000 acres of its agricultural lands, over 16,000 acres are under illegal occupation: Karachi, 535 acres, Hyderabad, 9,880 acres and Sukkur, 6598 acres.

Similarly, in Central Zone -- Multan, Sahiwal, Layyah and Bahawalpur, over 1,244 acres are under illegal occupation and among those 43 acres are also under the illegal occupation of some government departments of Punjab, over 28 acres in Sahiwal alone.

At his official residence in Zaman Park, Lahore, Siddiqul Farooq, who has also worked as a subeditor in different newspapers from 1985 to 1993, talked at length about multiple issues, faced by his department. He not only talked about achievements the ETPB has made during his tenure of over three years openly, but also admitted his shortcomings as the Board chairman due to which he fell short of fulfilling some promises he had made soon after assuming his office.

It is a little known fact that post-Partition, the ETPB was one of the departments with the most financial worth. This apparently dormant domain even today owns over 100,000 acres of land, mainly situated in Punjab.

The Board is not only responsible for managing the properties of evacuees and their financials matters and funds but also manages all activities pertaining to the Sikh/Hindu community and their sacred places. The ETPB does not receive any financial help from the exchequer. It generates its funds from leased lands/buildings of the Trust.

Considering the assets involved, the position of ETPB chairman is a tricky post to occupy. The important responsibility, and the consequent accountability, requires him to snub those looking for favours in lease and auction processes.

Siddiqul Farooq, who worked closely with the former prime minister Nawaz Sharif after joining Pakistan Muslim League-N (PML-N) in 1993, was given the coveted post of ETPB chairman in Oct 2014, when the PPP-appointee Syed Asif Hashmi fled the country after several corruption charges were levelled against him. Below are the details of questions and answers The News and Jang had with the ETPB chairman.

Question: How much lands/ properties the ETPB owns across the country and how much total revenue it generates and how much land is under illegal occupation?

Answer: We have over 100,000 acres of agricultural land across country with major chunk of lands located in Punjab.

Total agricultural land in the Eastern Zone (Lahore-I, Lahore-II and Kasur) is around 7,400 acres, from where the ETPB receives around Rs16.7 million annually. Total number of properties/ lands under occupation in the Eastern Zone is around 1,586 acres.

Total lands in Central Zone (Multan, Sahiwal, Layyah and Bahawalpur) are around 23,000 acres, with occupied land of 1,244 acres. Out of the occupied land, 43 acres of land has been occupied by the government departments and over 28 acres have been occupied in Sahiwal alone.

Total income of the Zone, from urban and agricultural lands/ properties is around Rs160 million annually. This Zone also has around 1,932 acres of barren lands, mainly situated in Bahawalpur.

ETPB has around 6,800 acres of agricultural lands in Northern Zone (Rawalpindi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa), with total income (urban and rural properties) of around Rs45 million annually.

Gujranwala Zone has over 4,700 acres of agricultural land with total income (urban and rural properties) of around Rs60 million annually.

Western Zone (Faisalabad) of the ETPB has over 30,000 acres of agricultural land with total income (urban and rural properties) of over Rs20 million annually.

Southern Zone (Sindh and Balochistan) has over 21,000 acres of agricultural lands with total income (urban and rural properties) of around Rs135 million. Total occupied land in the Zone is around 16,000 acres.

Similarly, Nankana Sahib Zone has around 16,390 acres of agricultural lands with total income (urban and rural properties) of around Rs9 million.

The ETPB has not even a single acre of agricultural land in Balochistan, but it has some units of urban properties there.

Question: How many ETPB cases are pending with various courts of the country?

Answer: We have about 1,000 cases pending with various courts across country. Below are details of pending cases in various zones of the ETPB.

Pending cases in Eastern Zone: There are 232 cases of Eastern Zone pending with various courts including 46 with the ETPB chairman’s court, 51 with federal secretary’s court, 61 with civil court, nine with district & sessions court, 58 with the high court and seven with the Supreme Court.

Similarly, in Kasur, property located in Bhai Pheru and Phool Nagar have been occupied illegally, which was earlier used for cultivation purpose. But, with the passage of time, around 1,586 occupants had raised constructions/structures with the connivance of political figures of the area. However, the department has issued notices to the occupants.

Northern Zone (Rawalpindi and KPK): As many as 81 cases in the zone are pending with chairman’s court, 33 with federal secretary court, 110 with civil courts, 24 with district & sessions courts, 55 with high court and 23 are pending with the Supreme Court.

Similarly, 535 acres of ETPB lands have been encroached upon due to litigation in different courts of Karachi; 9,880 acres of land encroached upon in Hyderabad and 6,598 acres of land have been encroached upon due to litigation in different courts in Sukkur.

Cases in Southern Zone: We have over 530 cases of Southern Zone pending with various courts. In Karachi districts: 10 cases are pending with the Supreme Court, 119 with high court, 10 with sessions court, 12 with civil court, 53 with federal secretary court and 11 with chairman’s court.

In Hyderabad, ETPB’s two cases are pending with the Supreme Court, 96 with high court, nine with sessions court, 35 with civil courts, 29 with federal secretary court, one with the joint secretary court and 18 with chairman court.

Similarly, in Sukkur, two cases are pending with SC, 39 with the high court, 17 with sessions court, 27 with civil courts, seven with the federal secretary court, one with joint secretary court and 35 with chairman’s court.

Central Zone: Over 70 cases are pending with the high court and over 20 pending with the Supreme Court.

There is no official record shared regarding pending cases as well as total occupied land in two Zones, i.e., Western Zone (Faisalabad) and Nankana Sahib Zone.

Question: What is the status of cases of illegal appointments made during the tenure of your predecessor and also enumerate various cases of ETPB pending with the courts of law?

Answer: Heading the ETPB for more than three years, I admit that due to intervention of courts, I could not dismiss even a single employee, out of several hundred recruited illegally during the PPP tenure from 2008 to 2013.

“Courts should avoid issuing stay orders in our matters, at least courts should listen to us before issuing the orders. Due to stay orders, the process of auction and lease gets affected in most cases.

“However, I respect a lot the incumbent Chief Justice of Lahore High Court Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah as “he is doing a great job in curbing the culture of stay orders”. We are fighting cases of illegal occupation of our properties and land and I appeal to respective courts to decide those cases at the earliest.

Question: What is the status of several cases filed against illegal acts of Asif Hashmi’s with NAB?

Answer: When I assumed the charge in October 2014, I not only approached National Accountability Bureau (NAB) with documentary evidence against Hashmi and his co-accused but also cooperated with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) which was also investigating the ETPB corruption cases.

“NAB so far has arrested several key lieutenants of Asif Hashmi and he has hid himself in a foreign country to escape cases. But things are moving in the right direction fast and soon he would be captured.”

Question: How much financial loss was caused during the PPP tenure?

Answer: My predecessor (Asif Hashmi) had allegedly caused a loss of Rs60 billion (approximately). “Rs5 billion losses have been inflicted on the ETPB in Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Lahore land deal alone.”

Remaining loss Mr Hashmi caused to the Board was through the illegal appointments, investments of millions of rupees in stock exchange and banks. Hashmi also caused losses of millions of rupees by declaring the Trust lands as non-Trust lands and also through dubious auction and lease of the ETPB properties and land, he further elaborated.

“Hashmi had recruited over 700 teachers and 500 guards illegally and the entire financial burden was put on the ETPB. 200 teachers were enough for ETPB schools. My predecessor did all illegal things with the active connivance of ETPB employees who are facing corruption charges in NAB these days.”

Due to large number of recruitment of teachers to schools, run by Pakistan Model Educational Institutions Foundation (PMEIF), a subsidiary of ETPB, the Foundation is suffering a loss of Rs260 million annually, he claims.

Question: What is the present status of ETPB-DHA Lahore land deal?

Answer: The DHA authorities are flouting Supreme Court’s orders in which it had clearly directed the Army-run housing authority to give share of plots to the ETPB which was agreed upon by both the parties in a land deal of 2009.

“You know we haven’t got a single plot agreed by the DHA in exchange of the land deal of2009 wherein the DHA Lahore had committed to giving us 33 per cent share in plots (both residential and commercial) in exchange for our more than 1,900 kanals of land, located in village Lidher at Motasinghwala and in village Dera Chahal in Tehsil Lahore Cantt. Even after the Supreme Court verdict of 2013, the DHA Lahore authorities aren’t paying any heed to our due share. They have established Phase VI and VII at our land but we are still to get our plots.

Question: As Navy has also approached the ETPB for acquiring its land in Lahore to establish a war college in the provincial metropolis, what is the status of the land deal with Navy?

Answer: Pakistan Navy has demanded a piece of land for a war college in Lahore, but we have not a lot land here and we have suggested them to identify the land somewhere else. “We don’t have much land here in Lahore, so we have asked them to identify the land in any other district in Punjab.” The process of identifying the land is going on and we will soon share further details with the naval officials in this regard.

Question: What is the current budget status of ETPB?

Answer: Budget deficit of ETPB was standing at Rs150 million in 2014 when I took over the charge but now it has a surplus budget of Rs550 million in 2017. Due to increased earnings, we have invested around Rs4 billion in top-rating banks of the country to earn more profit.

Question: What steps you are taking to control illegal acts within the ETPB?

Answer: Soon after taking charge, I approached Auditor General of Pakistan and requested him to depute a team to conduct audit of the ETPB as I wanted to clean the mess inherited from the PPP tenure.

“Now there is no open corruption in my department as not a single case of corruption has surfaced during my tenure so far. Auction of properties and lease of land is being made through a transparent manner and at market rates due to which revenue of the Board has increased during the recent years.”

Question: What could be the fate of multi-billion department as after 18th Amendment, some provinces including Punjab are keen to get their share in the ETPB assets and have also taken the matter to Council of Common Interests (CCI) for the very reason?

Answer: We know that the matter of ETPB’s fate is pending with the CCI but we are hopeful that it wouldn’t be dissolved to the provinces as not a single province can handle such an affair alone. “We will accept whatever the CCI decides about the fate of ETPB.”

Question: What is the present status of the proposed and landmark project Baba Guru Nanak University and also enumerate hurdles the project has been facing in this regard?

Answer: It is true that we could not start work on historic project of Baba Guru Nanak University, even I made a promise three years ago. There are several challenges I have been facing vis-à-vis the project including stiff resistance from the local tenants, lawyers and local politicians of his my party, i.e, PML-N. Following this sacred cause I have survived a violent attack from the local people when I was busy in an anti encroachment campaign in Nankana Sahib.

Recently, I have formed a committee of local parliamentarians, headed by Federal Minister Birjees Tahir, to address concerns of the locals. The committee will also look into the issue of land acquiring for Nankana Sahib University campus there.

“A bill of both the universities has gone to cabinet division for approval and head offices of proposed Baba Guru Nanak University and Gandhara University would be established in Islamabad and their main campuses would be established in Nankana Sahib and Texila, respectively”. For this purpose, Higher Education Commission (HEC) will give us a grant of Rs3 billion for the establishment of both the universities. We are planning to hold the ground-breaking ceremony of the universities by January next year.

Besides, We are also planning to establish three educational institutes for children of minority people in Sukkur (Sindh), For this sacred cause, the opposition leader in the National Assembly Syed Khursheed Shah has promised to provide us around 50 acres of land there.

Question: How would you define the role of various government departments in dealing with the ETPB affairs, particularly in handling devotees coming to Pakistan from across the globe?

Answer: Pakistani departments and agencies are playing a key role particularly the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), Intelligence Bureau (IB), Rangers, Police, Immigration, Foreign Office and civil administration, etc, in handling of foreign delegations coming to the country from across the globe, particularly from India every year.

“Due to all-out efforts of all departments concerned, coupled with better arrangements by the ETPB, the number of yatrees visiting Pakistan is on the rise with every passing year. Even negative propaganda by Indian intelligence agencies didn’t detract the devotees as they kept visiting this side of the Wagha border in large number this year”.

Hindu Parbandhak Committee is also on the cards which would work for welfare of the minority communities, along with the government.

Question: What is the reason that your subordinates couldn’t have an easy sailing while working with you as many secretaries of ETPB and other officials seen kept changing during your tenure so far?

Answer: As I’m here to work for the betterment of the Board, so I need dutiful people around. But, sadly majority of those officials I appointed were reluctant to work as per my aspirations. When officials concerned don’t work properly and efficiently what I could do instead of reshuffling them from their posts.

Question: How much donations the ETPB receives every year from the Gurdwaras and temples?

Answer: We collect around Rs10 million as donations from the devotees who submit the amount in all the Gurdwaras and temples of the country every year. Now we have also prepared an online system due to which devotees from across the world can submit their donations for these sacred places.

Question: What are the ETPB plans to reopen those temples and Gurdwaras which were closed down due to riots at the time of partition?

Answer: We have prepared a strategy to reopen all such Gurdwaras and temples one by one. I have opened three temples, which remained closed since Partition of 1947 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP) during the recent years whereas work on others is also underway.

Question: What steps had been taken for well-being of Sikh and Hindu yatrees in recent times by ETPB?

Answer: We are constructing hundreds of well-furnished rooms for taking care of Hindu and Sikh yatrees in Lahore, Katas Raj, Nankana Sahib, Hassanabdal, etc. Besides, my department is also working very efficiently for exporting ‘Amrat Jal', the holy water from a sacred well in Nankana Sahib, across the globe for free-of-cost.