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September 2, 2018

No regular captain to steer ETPB


September 2, 2018

ISLAMABAD: The Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) has been working without a regular chairman since removal of Siddiqul Farooq by the Chief Justice of Pakistan earlier this year.

The trust takes care of properties and sacred places of minorities in Pakistan.

Siddiqul Farooq, appointed by the deposed prime minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on political basis, was declared unqualified by the top court and removed in January this year.

After his removal, the then PML-N-led government had detailed a federal secretary [as interim chairman] to look after the Trust till appointment of a regular chairman. The PTI government has been in power for around two weeks but it is yet to appoint a new chairman.

Talking to The News on Saturday, Federal Minister for Information and Broadcasting Fawad Chaudhary agreed to the fact that the post must be filled at the earliest. He said Adviser to the Prime Minister on Establishment Muhammad Shahzad Arbab will look into the issue and soon the right man would take up the job.

“We will appoint highly qualified people for all the vacant posts to run the affairs in a transparent manner,” he said.

It is a little known fact that since Partition, the ETPB was one of the departments with the most financial worth. The board owns over 100,000 acres of land including agricultural, mainly situated in the Punjab.

Considering the assets involved, the post of ETPB chairman is a tricky one to occupy.

The board is not only responsible for managing the properties of evacuees and their financial matters and funds, but also all activities pertaining to the Sikh/Hindu community and their sacred places.

The board does not receive any financial help from the exchequer rather it generates its funds while leasing and renting out its properties.

The board also handles visits of hundreds of Sikh and Hindu Yatrees who come to Pakistan from around the world every year to participate in their religious rituals. The incoming chairman will also have to deal with several other important departmental issues as well.

One of those is to retrieve around 20,000 acres of its prized land out of the total 100, 000 acres encroached by influential people in the Punjab, Sindh and KP. One of the toughest issues the ETPB administration has to face while retrieving its land is pending of over 1,000 cases with various courts including high courts and Supreme Court.

According to the official data available with The News, the occupied ETPB land is mainly located in Sindh where out of 21,000 acres of its agricultural land, over 16,000 acres are under illegal occupation.

Similarly, 9,880 acres are under illegal occupation in Hyderabad, 6598 acres in Sukkur and 535 acres in Karachi.

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. This Zone also has around 1,932 acres of barren lands, mainly situated in Bahawalpur.

Of the total 7,400 acres in the Eastern Zone (Lahore-I, Lahore-II and Kasur) around 1,586 acres are under illegal occupation.

Furthermore, the ETPB has around 6,800 acres of agricultural lands in Northern Zone (Rawalpindi and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa). Gujranwala and Western Zone (Faisalabad) have over 4,700 and 30, 000 acres of agricultural land.

Similarly, the Nankana Sahib Zone has around 16,390 acres of agricultural land as well.

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

Other than occupied land issue, the new chairman also has to cooperate with the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) and Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) where several key cases are under investigation involving top officials of the ETPB.

To settle a land deal worth billions of rupees with Defence Housing Authority (DHA) Lahore would also be the key concern of the incoming chairman. The board had struck a deal with DHA Lahore wherein it gave over 1900 kanals of its land to get 33 per cent share in residential and commercial plots from DHA. The DHA authorities have established Phase-VI and VII on the ETPB land but due to some litigation not a single plot could be handed over to the board as yet. Another important matter the incoming head will have to deal with is to fulfill the long-pending promise of establishing Baba Guru Nanak University in Nankana Sahib. The successive governments have made promised to establish the university over the past one decade or more but the idea is still far from becoming a reality. Moreover, the incoming chairman has to deal with the Council of Common Interest (CCI) where the fate of the board has been hanging fire for the last many years.

Punjab, where a major chunk of the ETPB assets are located, is pressing hard to get the board’s assets dissolved among provinces after the 18th Amendment.

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