Friday September 24, 2021

Legal challenge facing Punjab govt if R3 alignment is aborted

Legal challenge facing Punjab govt if R3 alignment is aborted

ISLAMABAD: The Punjab government is likely to face a major challenge in retrieving as much as Rs2.3 billion it has paid to landowners as compensation for acquisition of their lands in case the new alignment of the Rawalpindi Ring Road (R3) project is cancelled.

An official close to these developments told The News that most of these landowners had already spent the money they had received from the government during the acquisition. “Most of them have spent the money on motorcycles, cars, marriages of their children or acquisition of new houses or lands.”

The official, who declined to be named, said some big landowners would be willing to return the money to the government, and only because the compensation they had received was much lower than the prevailing market price.

“These landowners believe they can sell their land at much higher prices now because of proximity to other private housing colonies. However, small landowners are not in the same position.”

A total of 16,000 kanals was to be acquired for the R3 project in various areas of Rawalpindi and Attock districts, the official said. “Around 8,000 kanals have been acquired and compensation has been paid for nearly 4,000 kanals,” he said. He said ownership transfers had already been made.

The official believed that a legal battle was likely to emerge if the government tried to forcibly retrieve the compensation paid to the landowners, and it could take years to resolve this issue.

“If the old ring road, which in reality is a bypass, is revived and the new R3 alignment is abandoned, loaded trucks will continue to use the Islamabad Expressway/ I J Principal Road, as their axle load will not let them pass on the ring road,” the official said.

“The ring road was being planned as way to divert heavy traffic from passing through Islamabad and Rawalpindi. It would defeat the purpose of the project if the old proposed road is built instead of the new alignment for the R3.”

Meanwhile, the officers, including former Rawalpindi commissioner and R3 project director Muhammad Mehmood - who were transferred on the basis of a fact-finding report of Commissioner Gulzar Shah, have told the investigating team of the Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) that they should be shown proof of any financial fraud they have committed in a project that was yet to start.

“The ACE mostly focused on procedural irregularities but did not come out with any allegations of corruption against these officers,” an official told The News. “The officers maintained their stance and asked to know details of any specific private housing societies that could have benefitted from the new alignment as a result of favors granted by them.”

He said that these officers held the view that whenever a new road, highway or any other mega project was planned and built by the government, people owning lands near them benefitted as the value of their properties increased.