Monday January 17, 2022

Pindi Ring Road scandal: Zulfi Bukhari and Sarwar Khan get clean chit

Former commissioner Rawalpindi and project director Rawalpindi Ring Road project, Muhammad Mahmood and land acquisition collector Abbas Tabish have been arrested and a case has been registered in connection with the irregularities in Rawalpindi Ring Road.

July 15, 2021

LAHORE: Former commissioner Rawalpindi and project director Rawalpindi Ring Road project, Muhammad Mahmood and land acquisition collector Abbas Tabish have been arrested and a case has been registered in connection with the irregularities in Rawalpindi Ring Road.

Former SAPM Zulfi Bukhari and Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan have apparently got clean chit in the investigation. This was said by Anti-Corruption Punjab Director General Gohar Nafees at a press conference Wednesday on completion of investigation report into Pindi Ring Road irregularities case. The initial report has been shared with Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Sharing the details of the inquiry with media, he said former commissioner Rawalpindi Muhammad Mahmood changed the alignment of the Ring Road which was approved by the then government in 2018, which increased the cost of the project and also the price of land. A new firm was hired for consultancy and assigned the job of new alignment without taking approval from the government. He said the project manager was asked to get approval from the chief minister but he failed to do that. He said the project was later handed over to Nespak.

Gohar Nafees said in violation of rules, the local transport was allowed to use the road which benefited the owners of the housing societies. He said CDA did not allow the construction of the section which is in Islamabad, but this part was shown in the advertisements. He said later the government decided to upgrade Lahore Ring Road Authority as Punjab Ring Road Authority to complete the construction and until then, no land would be acquisitioned, but this was also violated by purchasing land worth Rs2.6 billion.

He said the land bought in Attock was from an irrelevant person without approval and at much higher rate than that of Rawalpindi. He said former commissioner of Rawalpindi Mohammad Mahmood and the land reclamation collector Abbas Tabish have been arrested and those who benefitted from their actions are being searched. The large private contractors of housing societies were allowed to build interchanges themselves and then obtain the cost from their societies. It benefited them by building the interchange wherever they wanted. He said the entire construction in Attock was done without approval. He said Nova Housing sold Rs1.5 billion membership files only, depriving people of their life savings. He said the cases against the housing beneficiaries are being handed over to the NAB for action. To a question about politicians, he said, no direct investment of any political figure has come to light, but different anonymous investments from Dubai have emerged. “We will only talk about what we have proof of. We will send details about political figures to the NAB,” he added.

He said when the former commissioner was summoned by the prime minister to ask about the change in the road through Paswal zigzag, he denied that any changes had been made. Gohar said service roads were added in the forests along the Ring Road to benefit private housing societies.

Replying to questions about political pressure on him in this case, Gohar said for the first time in the history of anti-corruption, a former commissioner was arrested which was a proof there was no pressure. He said besides change in alignment, other aspect of the case that who benefitted from public money were being looked into. He said former commissioner Rawalpindi changed alignment without approval which increased the length of the Ring Road, and spent Rs2.6 billion without permission, causing the increase in land acquisition grants to increase from Rs6 billion to Rs16 billion. Besides, 10 housing societies were found to have committed irregularities, and were being looked into as to how they got information about the Ring Road and its alignment changes. He said the investigation was completed in 50 days, the inquiry team checked 21,000 documents during the investigation and interrogated more than 100 officers.

According to inquiry report available with The News, it was found that the statement of Muhammad Mehmood ex project director Rawalpindi Ring Road is contradictory to the summary approved by the Punjab chief minister in March 2018 initiated by C&W Department, Government of Punjab. Furthermore, ex-project director reported that major decisions were taken in PSC meeting held on 31.1.20. As per verification by P&D, the said meeting was never held. It shows that the concept paper for Phase-II extension of R3 was never discussed in PSC or any other forum. Therefore, the claim of PD and DPD is misleading, against the facts and tantamount to transgressing from authority. (ii)Muhammad Mehmood as project director and DPD Mohammad Abdullah unilaterally decided to execute project in PPP mode in the 9th PRM meeting held on 15.2.20. He further misquoted that all top management is on board on this issue. The documentary proof does not support his claim. It is evident from record that he was taking decisions on his own and later on tried to get the nod of higher authorities by concealing the facts. M/s Zeeruk completed a field survey of Attock loop/Paswal Zigzag portion by installing ROW centerline markers on 12.3.20 respectively when alignment of the project was neither discussed nor approved by any forum.

According to the inquiry report, taking such major action at this stage was an attempt by ex-PD to illegally extend the Ring Road when the same was not even under consideration by any competent forum. (iii)Final decision on inclusion of Attock Loop/ Paswal Zigzag and issuance of variation order was subject to submission of Holistic Comparative Analysis containing Cost Benefit Analysis to Project Steering Committee. This was not done by PD and DPD Mohammad Abdullah and decisions were taken by the ex-commissioner/PD himself. On the orders of PD, a variation order was issued by Mohammad Abdullah to M/s Zeeruk on 20.3.20 in which scope of work was enhanced from Radio Pakistan to N5 Sangjani. Taking such decisions regarding extension was mandated by the Project Steering Committee headed by chairman P&D which had to consider all relevant facts regarding scope, time and cost variations before making any such decision. (iv)No separate meeting was held with the chief minister for finalisation of route alignment for R3 project as decided in the 3rd PSC and 3rd PPP P&M Board meetings held on 24.6.20 and 3.7.20 respectively. PSC had directed in clear terms to initiate a case for briefing chief minister about the project as well as the alignment option supported by appropriate data. Similarly, it was decided in the PPP P&M Board meeting that route alignment for RRR shall be finalised in a separate meeting to be chaired by the chief minister. (v) P&D Board vide its letter date 8.10.20 had clarified that approval of PC-I does not constitute approval of alignment. The current chairman P&D, Abdullah Sumbal and ex-chairman Hamed Yaqoob Sheikh, confirmed that approval of PC-I does not constitute approval of alignment. Hence, the alignment was not approved and Ex-PD was bent upon extending the Ring Road in Attock against the advice and directions of all relevant forums.(vi) Ex PD and DPD directed M/s Nespak to review design and provided local access at three interchanges for the benefit of upcoming housing societies. They also added “Nekrali Interchange” in design despite the fact that it is 9 km away from populated area. These changes were got incorporated in design by PD to seek undue benefits from the housing societies. Satellite image interpretation shows that ex-project director and ex-deputy project director approved service roads in such areas which have very low population/built-up areas.

The service roads have been proposed to facilitate housing societies. (vii) Muhammad Mehmood and Muhammad Abdullah as ex, PD and ex-DPD issued Night Rendering map on the RDA website in September 2020 containing logos of RDA and GoPb without obtaining alignment approval from the competent authority to create hype in property market when project was still under consideration.

According to inquiry, furthermore, as per decisions of CDA, the case to seek approval of the federal Cabinet to align Ring Road with the sectoral limits of ICT in relaxation of approved master plan of Islamabad by RDA was never processed and forwarded to HUD&PHE Department. NOC from NHA for use of CPEC route was not secured. This was a basic prerequisite and the project was advertised without NOC. (viii) The directions of competent authority regarding acquisition of land and construction of Ring Road in ICT by CDA was also neglected by ex-PD and ex-DPD and they included ICT area in RFP. The PD took no pains in getting said directive implemented rather willfully violated it. (ix) The revival of M/s Nespak JV by RDA was illegal as on 10.9.20 M/s Nespak JV was offered revival when JV stood dissolved. With the dissolution of JV, the contract was null and void and could not be revived, a request for proposal was floated by ex-PD and ex-DPD at the time when alignment of the project was not approved. Bidding process was to be initiated by LRRA and not RDA. As per directions of the PPP P&M Board, floating of RFP was the responsibility of LRRA after extension of its jurisdiction and conversion into PRRA. Ex-PD manipulated the situation and used RDA for floating of RFP to create irreversibility for the project. (x) Waseem Ali Tabish was granted powers to work as LAC in Attock district illegally by commissioner Rawalpindi. Moreover, no formal notification was issued in this respect making all proceedings void ab-initio. Therefore, acquisition proceedings by Waseem Ali Tabish outside the RDA controlled area are illegal. Moreover, acquisition proceedings were started without basic approvals of the project. Section 4 notification was issued in January 2020 while first formal communication to LAC by DG, RDA was made in February 2020. Serious violation in preparation and issuance of Section 4 for Murat Mauza of Attock district even before approval of noting from commissioner assigning powers for Attock district. (xi) The Award was prepared for Rawalpindi on 19.1.21 and for Attock on 5.3.21 by Waseem Ali Tabish. The so-called approval of the project was granted by PRC to the PPP P&M Board on 19.2.21. LAC acted in violation of rules and procedures for ulterior motives. Waseem Ali Tabish ex-LAC was aware that alignment for the Attock loop was not approved, which he mentioned in 17th and 41st PRM meetings. However, LAC disbursed compensation to the owners to give credence to this alignment and create hype in the property market. (xii) The original PC-I titled “Land Acquisition, Property Compensation, Afforestation & Shifting of Utilities for Rawalpindi Ring Road Project” for 51.7 km (up to CPEC Route) was of Rs6.247 billion while Revised PC-I for 66.3 km (Up to Sangjani) was of Rs16.3 billion. The addition of 14.6 km distance cost Rs10 billion. Out of this Rs10 billion, an amount of Rs2.06 billion has been paid for acquisition of land on unapproved alignment which is loss to the national exchequer. Ex-PD, Ex-DPD and Ex-LAC willfully caused loss amounting to Rs2.06 billion.