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Finance & Trade Centre Johar Town billed for Rs20 bn has no customer

LAHORE: A huge and undeveloped chunk of land earmarked for building a state-of-art Lahore Trade Centre next to Pakistan Expo Centre, Johar Town, billed to sell for Rs20 billion, could not attract a single customer when it went under the hammer here on Monday.

The Punjab Privatization Board literally left no stone unturned to sell the whole lot of 1,000 kanals (125 acres) lump sum as it had been directed by the Chief Minister, Punjab Mian Shahbaz Sharif. Advertisements were placed in international print media, property channels and the Chairman, Punjab Privatization Board went all the way to Singapore to sell it in an international real estate conference.

Despite explicit directive of the Chief Minister, Punjab, the Lahore Development Authority could not provide the design and bylaws for the Lahore Trade Centre in time for the auction which had been notified by the Punjab Privatization Board more than a month back.

Explaining the position, the Chief Town Planner, LDA Waseem Ahmed Khan told The News that LDA had advertized and shortlisted 11 consultants out of 34 who had applied. “One of the consultants of international repute will be hired to design Lahore Trade Centre and the same company will draft by-laws for it,” he added. “However, the process will take time,” he further said.

The LDA authorities and officials of the Board of Revenue are however alleged to be using delaying tactics. Unofficially, one of the top bureaucrats in LDA

conceded in his off-the-record talk to The News said that LDA would follow a “go-slow policy but it would not hamper its auction.”

Some of the interested investors who had been seeking details about the auction of the whole lot of 1,000 kanals were apprehensive about implications involved. They were quoting the problems faced by building of a huge complex “Centaurus” by a Saudi company which has run up against many difficulties in dealing with Capital Development Authority (CDA) whose officials have allegedly not been abiding by the terms and conditions.

The LDA officials are aware of the facts that if any party dares to buy the whole lot, it would have to deal with LDA officials separately after spending a huge amount of money. Earlier, the Director-General, LDA, Omer Rasul, in a summary to the Chief Minister, Punjab pleaded that “the subject land area comprising 1,000 kanals in Johar Town, designated as “Trade & Finance Centre” in the Integrated Master Plan for Lahore, 2021 has become extremely important for the success of LDA’s future development projects in the south of the city. This very important piece of land needs to be designed, planned and launched in phases to ensure its maximum utilization as a “Trade & Finance Centre” thus catering to the business and financial activities in the south of Lahore.”

Giving the reference of a piece of 400 kanals, which the previous government had lent to the federal government adjacent to the site on which Pakistan Expo Centre has been built and recently opened by Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, the DG, LDA lamented that, “Previously this precious chunk of land has virtually been wasted by giving it away at a throw-away price without any value addition neither in terms of value of the land given away nor in terms of giving weight to the overall benefit and future consideration for the area.”

In the same document, Omer Rasul conceded that, “in 1995, LDA (Omer was not DG then) was able to block a serious attempt of the same nature to dispose of this land.” The case had gone up to the Supreme Court and LDA was given a breather and directed to prepare a Master Plan.

The LDA prepared numerous studies and Terms of References (TsOR) but they all looked like child’s play. Initially, when LDA planned Johar Town over 3,200 acres, this chunk of land was left in the middle for building civic amenities like mosque, school, playgrounds, parking areas and some commercial zones. Later on, LDA planners redesigned it but those designs were not up to any international standard.

Omer Rasul speaks of LDA’s inability and submits that, “It is the considered view of the undersigned that these TsOR are also deficient in terms of technical and planning details for a thorough master planning exercise of such a sensitive nature.”

The summary was put up on 24 May, 2010. The chief minister agreed that designs should be prepared but he reduced the time period from six months to three months, according to notes on the file copy of which The News has procured.

The stipulated period of three months ended on 24 August, 2010. The Punjab Privatization Board hoped that when it goes for the auction as late as 18 October, 2010, the LDA would have prepared its world-class design and by-laws. But as investors inquired on Monday morning, there was only the raw and undeveloped piece of land with hutments of gypsies, pools of stagnant water and garbage heaps lying here and there on this huge piece of land. There was no design and no by-laws.

The chief minister’s direction that “Proper plan may be envisaged in order to generate maximum revenue from this precious chunk of land through an open and competitive bidding process” remained unheeded. Designs and by-laws could not be completed despite the fact that the chief minister had directed the Chief Secretary, Punjab “to kindly look into the matter personally so that no delays are incurred in implementation.”

As if that was not enough, the Provincial Price Assessment Committee (PPAC) in its evaluation of the land fixed the market price at Rs2 million per marla (Rs 40 million/4 crore per kanal) which raised the estimated total value of 1,000 kanals from Rs10 billion to Rs 20 billion.

Even LDA’s senior officials agree that the land price after value addition with proper design and development could be in the range of Rs1 million per marla (Rs10 million per kanal) and total land price could be something like Rs10 billion. The PPB has faced a series of setbacks in auctioning urban properties for higher evaluation of land by government officials.

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