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Gwadar: MoD holds Balochistan govt responsible for raise in airport land's price

ISLAMABAD : The Ministry of Defence has held the Balochistan government responsible for 122 percent increase in the price of the land for New Gwadar International Airport (NGIA). The provincial government has also been accused of not only ignoring the directives of the Deputy Chairman Planning Commission, but also changing the basic data of calculating the average price of land.

The Planning Commission has been directed by the Executive Committee of the National Economic Council (Ecnec) to investigate the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) act of spending Rs 1.5 billion to purchase land for an airport at Gwadar.

According to official documents available with Business Recorder, a fact-finding committee, comprising, Member (Implementation and Monitoring), Planning Commission, Additional Chief Secretary, Additional Secretary, Finance Division; Additional Secretary, Defence Division; Deputy Director General of Civil Aviation Authority, Senior Member of Board of Revenue, Balochistan; Joint Chief Economist (Projects), Planning Commission and Specialist PSDP, Planning Commission, has investigated the reasons behind the delay in the implementation of the project and increase in the cost of land.

A meeting of the fact-finding committee was held on October 28, 2008. The Additional Secretary, Finance was represented by DFA and ACS Development, whereas Balochistan government expressed its inability to attend the meeting on some unspecified grounds and had made a request for the postponement or reconvening of the meeting. The Deputy Director General, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was represented by the Director Planning CAA.

Acting Senior Member, Board of Revenue, Balochistan, Ghulam Rasul Hasni, however, visited the Planningg Commission on October 23, 2008. He was asked by the Member (I&M)/ED IMU to provide the break-up of land, procured for the CAA, owned by private owners and government land.

He, on subsequent telephonic conversation, revealed that all the land procured for the CAA was owned by the private landowners. The viewpoint of the Balochistan government was contained in a brief obtained from the Board of Revenue through the Chief Secretary Balochistan, which was circulated in the meeting. Member (I&M)/ED (IMU) stated that the fact-finding committee has been mandated to look into the reasons for the delay and the increase in the cost of land and the report of the committee would be submitted to the Ecnec for a final decision.

Additional Secretary, Defence , Major General Mir Haider Ali Khan stated that all the facts of the current issue involved in processing the case for the procurement of land for NGIA had been extensively debated upon in the past at various fora, including CDWP, Ecnec, Co-ordination and Implementation Committee (CIC) meetings.

According to the documents, meetings were also held between Deputy Chairman Planning Commission and Governor Balochistan. In addition, meetings have also been held in the Planning Commission office wherein representatives of all the concerned establishments were in attendance. The issues under debate were; (i) Readjustment of the location and reduction in size of the NGIA land and realignment of the proposed Coastal Highway towards the north; and (ii) Enhancement of the rate from the previously assessed figures.

Major General Haider had stated that the Ministry of Defence had all along opposed any increase in cost of land, as well as re-alignment of the proposed Coastal Highway, as it would result in major re-adjustment in the overall project – physically and financially – and had consistently stressed that approval/directions of Ecnec was required.

However, on repeated insistence of CIC constituted for integrated development of Gwadar, the matter was referred to the competent authority which reiterated the original decision, wherein no enhancement in the cost of land for NGIA and no re-alignment of the Coastal Highway were acceptable.

This was conveyed to the CIC accordingly but the stance of Ministry of Defence has not been properly recorded in CIC meetings, he added. “The acquisition of land has been deliberately delayed by the Balochistan government and instead of acceptance of the approved amount (Rs 1050 million) from the CAA, the Balochistan demanded additional funds based on increased rate,” Additional Secretary continued.

He further revealed that subsequent to release of funds the issue regarding transfer of the funds was discussed by CIC on December 12, 2006 which decided that payment to land owners be made on the basis of market rate of December 6, 2006.

The proposal of increase in cost from Rs 157, 000 per acre to Rs 348, 140/ (122 percent) was discussed in a meeting held on June 2, 2007. It was chaired by the then Deputy Chairman and attended by Governor Balochistan, CAA Director General Military Land & Cantonment, QMG, GHQ, and DG log JSHQ.

The meeting had decided that “the federal government may consider additional amount from the PSDP 2007-08 and in the subsequent years for purchase of 4300 acres identified/earmarked for NGIA. Meanwhile, the Balochistan government should start making payment to the land owners from the amount already disbursed by the Defence Ministry.” CAA on direction of CIC released Rs 1050 million to the Balochistan government on June 2, 2007 for the acquisition of land. This amount was not released earlier because the amount was under active consideration of CIC since 2006.

The federal government subsequently released Rs 453.744 million to Board of Revenue, Balochistan government on February 08, 2008 against a demand of Rs 447 million. Balochistan government handed over the physical possession of land to CCA on May 13, 2008 after completing all the formalities.

Additional Secretary Ministry of Defence subsequently dilated on the factors responsible for delay in the acquisition of land for NGIA. He stated that unit cost of land was obtained from MLC Quetta on 31st January, 2005 and this rate was conveyed to the Board of Revenue (BOR), Government of Balochistan by the CAA on 20th March 2006. CDWP accorded conditional approval on 20th May, 2006 and constituted a committee to verify the cost of land. Planning Commission allocated Rs 1050 million in PSDP 2005-2006 and conveyed this to Ministry of Defence on 29th April, 2006. The entire cost of land at Rs 1050 million was released on 27th June, 2006. However, Anticipatory Approval of the Chairman ECNEC was conveyed to M/o Defence on 30 June, 2006 and final approval on 30th November 2006. Administrative approval by M/o Defence was issued on 26th December 2006.

However, at this stage CIC was formed and the whole matter went before it for deliberations in its various meetings. The CIC, in its meeting held on 26 December, 2006, directed to fix the land price at the then prevailing rate as on 6 December, 2006 (when objection time of 30 days was over after application of Section-4 on 6 November, 2006). The matter was deliberated and every time demand for additional funds was received from the Balochistan government based on the inadequacy of the available resources. Subsequently, Planning Commission facilitated in securing approval of the government for financing the additional cost.

In the very first meeting of the CIC held on 12 December, 2006 enhancement of land price, realignment of coastal highway and shifting of airport site away from the selected location emerged, which was examined on technical grounds and CIC was informed that approach and landing angle cannot be realigned, while land side area mainly comprising the terminal building and allied facilities, can be realigned/redesigned.

The documents further reveal that Additional Secretary Defence categorically referred to acceptance of shifting the earmarked area towards north by the QMG in one of the meetings, which was in the greater national interest since the airport and economic zone deserved the highest priority. Deputy Chairman, Planning Commission directed Balochistan government to hand over the land by 15 November 2007, which was not honoured and the CAA received possession of land on 13 May, 2008 after lapse of 11 months, despite the receipt of the entire cost by the Balochistan government.

He was also of the view that the decisions taken by CDWP and Ecnec were not implemented as approved because the issues of land price and alignment were reviewed by the CIC and referred back to the competent authority with amended proposals. These were subsequently approved, as explained above, and only then was the process moved forward. This has been the actual cause of delay of the project.

According to the Defence Ministry, repeated demands by the Balochistan government to reduce size, re-adjust location, and enhance price of the NGIA land, were the major factors. Deliberation by the CIC to have the Ecnec decision reviewed, which took time, was an inherent subsidiary factor.

Even when the project was realigned and the additional cost of land made available, Balochistan government took 11 months to acquire land and hand over possession of the land after receipt of the entire funds, the Defence Ministry further argued. It is not known when the Planning Commission would submit the investigation report to the Ecnec, which is to be finalised before the convening of the meeting.

Source: Business Recorder

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