Monday September 20, 2021

R3 scam: Commissioner rescinds land acquisition along aborted ring road

August 02, 2021
R3 scam: Commissioner rescinds land acquisition along aborted ring road

ISLAMABAD: The Rawalpindi commissioner has revoked the entire process of the acquisition of land along the route of the aborted Rawalpindi Ring Road (R3) project and ordered the concerned revenue officials to recover the approximately Rs2.3 billion paid to the landowners.

In an “order” passed by the commissioner, a copy of which is available with The News, he wrote: “I, Gulzar Hussain Shah (PAS/BS-21), Commissioner, Rawalpindi Division, in exercise of the powers vested in me under Section 48(1) of the Land Acquisition Act, 1894 [LAA] hereby withdraw from all land acquisition proceedings undertaken along the entire length of the illegally advertised [R3] alignment falling in [the] districts of Rawalpindi and Attock.” The order said that “for the purpose of determining the total recoverable amount for each district,para 13 of the special audit report [conducted by the Punjab directorate of audit on the direction of the provincial government] may be relied upon in addition to the compensation payment records maintained by concerned offices, including the office of land acquisition collectors (LAC) of Rawalpindi and Attock, are hereby directed to ensure recovery of the entire paid amounts and refund/ deposit those amounts in the relevant head of account subject to adjustments, if any, under Section 48(2) of the LAA.”

Section 48 of the LAA says the commissioner will be at liberty to withdraw from the acquisition of any land of which possession has not been taken. Whenever he withdraws, the collector will determine the amount of compensation due for the damage suffered by the owner in consequence of the notice or of any proceedings, and will pay such an amount to the person interested, together with all costs reasonably incurred by him in the execution of the proceedings under the LAA relating to such land.

The commissioner’s order said that all the land acquisition proceedings, including the Section 4 process and awards by relevant authorities on the illegally advertised R3 alignment and proceedings for design changes, have been deemed void ab-initio as per para 54(ii) of the approved fact-finding inquiry report [the unilateral report prepared by Gulzar Hussain Shah himself] by the Punjab chief minister.

The order said the special audit report of the Directorate General of Audit Works (Punjab) has held that violation of the Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules and contractual obligations resulted in the unlawful enhancement of the scope of the contract as well as inclusion of unapproved alignment in the feasibility study and detailed design of the R3 and that violation of the LAA resulted in illegal payments and in multiple paras of the report recorded the fact that physical possession of the land along the illegally advertised alignment does not vest with the Punjab government.

He said the deputy commissioners of Attock and Rawalpindi have reported that no possession of land was made by the acquiring agency/ Rawalpindi Development Authority (RDA).

The Punjab government had appointed a three-member fact-finding committee headed by the commissioner to probe the R3 scam. However, his findings were not signed by two other members of the forum, who wrote and submitted to the Punjab government their own separate reports.

Former Rawalpindi commissioner retired Capt Muhammad Mahmood and LAC Wasim Tabish were arrested in mid-July by the Punjab’s Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) for their suspected involvement in the R3 scam. They were later sent to jail on judicial remand after Muhammad Mahmood, who has now been suspended from service by the establishment division, told the judicial magistrate that despite his 13-day physical remand, the ACE failed to find any evidence against him. The ACE prosecutor wanted an extension of the physical remand.

The ACE has claimed that its investigators examined over 21,000 pages and the R3 alignment was approved in 2018 by the previous government, which was subsequently changed and the Attock loop was created, thereby the construction cost of the project rose tremendously.

The R3 scandal erupted in the wake of Commissioner Gulzar Shah’s report and caused a storm. Immediately, the Punjab government wrote a letter to the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) to look into the scam. At the same time, the ACE also probed the scandal. Also, a special audit of the project was ordered by the Punjab government. At one point, NAB said that it would take the inquiry into the mega project to its logical conclusion.