LAHORE: The Punjab government stands to lose more than Rs1.2 billion if a deal granting permanent property rights to 646 shopkeepers in Faisalabad’s Makki Market goes through, The Express Tribune has learnt.
The deal has been worked out by the district coordination officer (DCO) in violation of property rules and by-laws, an official requesting anonymity told this correspondent.
The state commercial land, sprawling over 258 marlas and worth Rs1.548 billion, is being sold for just Rs335.4 million in a “secret deal” worked out by Faisalabad DCO Naseem Sadiq, granting permanent property rights to illegal occupants at a reserved price calculated in 1998, the official said.
This property was offered for sale despite a warning issued by the district officer, revenue, who was also chairperson of the district price assessment committee, which was published in all mainstream national newspapers for carrying out fresh assessments of all properties owned by the district administration.
During an investigation, it was found that after a cabinet decision in 1998, the Punjab Board of Revenue granted 19 commercial properties in various city areas to the Municipal Corporation, Faisalabad. Thousands of shops were built on these properties, measuring 1,560 marlas.
The Tehsil Municipal Administration (TMA), City, Faisalabad, became the successor of these properties after the city’s municipal corporation became defunct.
On the instruction of the Board of Revenue, it was decided that all such properties would be auctioned in open market for generating funds for the Faisalabad Road Rehabilitation Project (FRRP).
Meanwhile, the TMA acquired a loan of Rs50 million from the Local Government Board and Rs100 million from the district council, respectively, for the road project. These liabilities have now swelled to Rs230 million owing to the negligence of the administration, the officials said.
During the fiscal year 1998-99, the district price assessment committee was directed to assess the reserved price of the unlawfully possessed shops in the market, built over an area measuring 258 marlas.
The committee fixed a reserve price of Rs1.3 million per marla and occupants of shops in the market were given an opportunity to deposit the money in public exchequer in return for property rights. Of the total, only 44 shopkeepers deposited the reserved price, while others requested for installments. The matter has remained shelved because of the lackluster attitude of officials of the revenue department since 1998-99.
In 2005, Faisalabad was declared one of the city district governments and its two TMAs were further bifurcated into four under the Local Government Ordinance. Subsequently, TMA, Lyallpur Town, became the successor of all assets and liabilities of the defunct TMA, City, Faisalabad.
It is learnt that unsigned challan forms had been distributed and all occupants were offered ownership rights in return for depositing the remainder of the amount assessed over a decade ago by the Faisalabad DCO, the officials said.
The DCO’s decision was against the essence of the Punjab Local Government Property Rules of 2003 and Property Bylaws of 2007, according to which it is mandatory for TMAs and district governments concerned to carry out fresh assessments of all properties to be sold, rent or leased after every five years.
According to the Local Government Property Rules, all immovable property should be given on lease or sold through competitive bidding after publicising the event in at least two national newspapers.
The assessment committee has not yet met again for recalculating the reserve price of shops in the Makki Market, the officials added. According to a tentative assessment, the market value of the property in the same locality is around Rs6 million per marla.
If the said properties are sold at the previous reserve price, the successor administration would earn just Rs335.4 million. However, if the price assessment committee is allowed to recalculate the reserve price at current market rates, the TMA would earn Rs1.548 billion, which would enable it to deposit the extra fund in the public exchequer and help out the provincial government which is facing a financial crunch. The Faisalabad DCO said the Makki Market did not require a fresh assessment.
In 1998, he said, possession of all shops had been granted to 646 occupants to generate money to finance the road rehabilitation project. They were charged at a price calculated by the then district price assessment committee which was Rs1.3 million per marla.
He said that he was only trying to cover the outstanding dues from these shopkeepers. “They had deposited just Rs40 million in the public exchequer. Shopkeepers owed Rs70 million and they have now deposited Rs60 million for acquiring permanent property rights”.
He said he was being maligned by some officials who wanted to bring the transparency and policy of merit upheld by the city government.
He said the city district government had sent a summary for approval to grant property rights to occupants to the Board of Revenue after fulfilling all requirements.