Ex-officials defend railway land lease

ISLAMABAD: Three former members of the executive committee of Pakistan Railways Board, two of them ex-generals, defended before the Supreme Court on Monday the lease of 141 acres of railway land to a private elitist golf club, saying it would generate Rs40 million a year as against a mere Rs12.Former chairman of Pakistan Railways Lt-Gen (retd) Saeed Zafar, finance member Khurshid Alam Ahmed Khan and Maj-Gen (retd) Hamid Hassan Butt, represented by Advocate Ahmer Bilal Soofi, contended in separate replies that they had approved the project because in their view it was the best commercial choice at the time. The said the land was earlier paying just Rs12 a year.A four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was hearing a petition by former minister of state for railways Ishaq Khan Khakwani and former PPP leader Dr Mobashir Hassan.The petitioners have claimed that the lease of land to the Mainland Hussain Construction Company allegedly in a non-transparent manner and in violation of principles has caused a loss of Rs50 billion to the national exchequer.The company that operates the club in the heart of Lahore was allowed by the court to become a party in the case as respondent. Advocate Ali Zafar is representing the company.The court gave another opportunity to the respondents who had been issued notices at the last hearing to submit their replies in three days. Those who have not submitted replies include former railways minister Lt-Gen (retd) Javed Ashraf Qazi, who is a senator.“Presumption is those (who have not submitted their replies) have nothing to contest,” the court observed, but then gave them another opportunity before adjourning the matter for three weeks.

The three former executive committee members said one of the 10 directorates they supervised had identified 200 railway assets to be commercialised so that the cash-starved department could generate funds within the requirements of the Council of Common Interests (CCI).Of the assets, 14 were shortlisted, including the land for the Royal Palm Golf Club, they said, adding that all negotiations in this regard were done by the marketing directorate with the assistance of legal advisers when bids were invited.Referring to a report by a 20-member special committee of the National Assembly that suggested auction of assets of those involved in the scandal to meet the losses, the respondents claimed that they had not been given a proper hearing by the committee which called them once in two years and didn`t ask them to submit written replies.Attorney General Maulvi Anwarul Haq said he had recently received a detailed report from the railways and needed time to study it and submit it in a proper shape – Dawn