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Sindh to move SC again for land settlement fund

Sindh to move SC again for land settlement fund

KARACHI: On a directive of the Sindh cabinet, the province’s top law officer is set to file an application in the Supreme Court with a request to fix for hearing a pending application of the province seeking the funds being deposited by the Bahria Town Limited for settlement of cases about its project in Karachi.

The federal and provincial governments had filed identical applications in the apex court in August claiming the money.

The Sindh government through Advocate General (AG) Salman Talibuddin had moved the apex court in August, seeking a directive for transfer of the amount of down payment deposited by Bahria Town as well as all future payments to the provincial government account.

On Monday, Sindh Minister for Labour Saeed Ghani said after a cabinet meeting that the government directed the AG to file an application in the SC requiring them to transfer the money submitted by Bahria Town for the land in Sindh to the provincial government and according to cabinet’s decision, the provincial government would utilise that money for the improvement of water sector in the province.

Cabinet decides to spend money deposited by Bahria Town on development projects

The AG said the application he had already filed in the apex court seeking the transfer of funds had not been taken up for hearing so far. As the cabinet directed him to make efforts to expedite the process, Mr Talibuddin said, he would approach the Supreme Court again with an urgency plea.

The move to accelerate the procedure on part of the provincial authorities is apparently made after the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency (NCA) recovered 190 million pounds [Rs39 billion] from the family of Malik Riaz, chairman of Bahria Town, and transferred the money to Supreme Court’s account.

In August, the Sindh government approached the apex court around a week after the federal government had moved an identical application seeking funds being deposited by the Bahria Town Limited.

In the application, the provincial law officer contended that the top court, in its March 21 order, had directed the Bahria Town to make down payment to the Sindh government in respect of the rights to be acquired by it from the provincial government for land measuring 16,896 acres in Karachi.

He maintained that since the federal government faced a severe fiscal crunch due to shortfall in the federal tax collection in the financial year 2018-19, the Sindh government against the budget estimate of Rs605.6 billion had received Rs439bn by June 30, reflecting a shortfall of Rs112bn and a deficit of Rs74.99bn against revised estimates of Rs508bn against the federal revenue assignment from the divisible pool.

Similarly, he said, the Sindh government received only Rs9.9bn out of the total allocation of Rs14.266bn under the Public Sector Development Programme 2018-19. The AG argued that this shortfall in the provincial revenue jeopardised not only the projects, which were at various stages of preparation, but also those on which work had already been initiated.

Thus, the law officer said, the court should direct the relevant offices to transfer not only the amount of the down payment, which the Bahria Town had deposited in SC account, to the provincial government account but also all future payments in this regard.

He submitted the Sindh government undertook that all money received from Bahria Town in the light of Supreme Court order, would be used by the provincial government for its development projects in a transparent manner under the supervision of a dedicated committee to be constituted by the chief minister.

On March 21, a three-judge SC bench had accepted the Rs460bn offer by the Bahria Town to implement the court’s May 4, 2018 judgement which held that the grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA) by the Sindh government, its exchange with the private land of the developer and anything done under the provisions of the Colonisation of Government Land Act, 1912, by the provincial government were illegal and of no legal existence. The land was granted for an incremental housing scheme, but the MDA exchanged it with the land of Bahria Town to launch a scheme of its own, the bench in its verdict had regretted.

Published in Dawn, December 10th, 2019

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