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Groundbreaking performed for Peshawar expo centre amid qualms

Groundbreaking performed for Peshawar expo centre amid qualms

PESHAWAR: Ignoring reservations, the federal and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government have gone ahead with their plan to establish the Peshawar Expo Centre on the land of the province’s leading agricultural research centre.

KP Chief Minister Pervez Khattak and federal commerce minister Khurram Dastagir Khan on Wednesday performed the groundbreaking ceremony of the Rs2.5 billion facility to be set up on 25 acres of the land at Tarnab Farm around 20 kilometers east of the provincial capital.

The land was previously owned by the Agricultural Research Institute.

The oldest agriculture research centre of the province set up in 1908, the institute stands over 200 acres of land along the GT Road.

The Tarnab farmland, which is part of the agriculture department’s immovable property, was transferred to the industries department to set up the centre despite serious reservations of the ARI.

The documents shared with Dawn show that the federal commerce ministry and KP agriculture department signed a memorandum of understanding on Jan 20, 2015, to set up the expo centre.

The MoU says the KP government will provide 25 acres of the ARI land for the purpose as its equity in the project, while the federal government will ensure provision of necessary funds to meet the costs of the centre’s establishment and development.

An agriculture department official told Dawn that after learning about the expo centre’s establishment on its land, the ARI opposed the plan insisting the proposed facility’s activities would hamper its research nurseries and activities.

The institute also claimed that it needed more land to execute its plans and therefore, it was in no position to give away such a large piece of land for the expo centre.

In a letter, the director general (agricultural research) complained to the agriculture secretary that the ARI was not kept in the loop as the federal and KP governments finalised the expo centre deal.

The letter also revealed that the ARI’s administration was however told to ‘follow directives’ on the project.

A Dec 2014 agriculture department summary submitted to the chief minister says an ADP scheme, feasibility study and establishment of agriculture house/expo centre at KP Agriculture University Peshawar costing Rs150 million has been proposed.

It however said the project would not be materialised as the site provided by the university measured 35 kanals only and couldn’t meet the requirements of the expo centre.

The summary also said a presentation was also made to the KP Planning and Development (P&D) department and it was observed that the site was not feasible for the expo centre and it was decided that agriculture department may also consider some other suitable site other than agriculture university to meet the requirement of the expo centre, having space for future expansion.

“The department proposes 20-25 acres of land at ARI Tarnab the most feasible site, could be earmarked for the establishment of the expo centre,” it read.

An industries department summary dating June 2016 notes that in a meeting dating April 11 it was proposed instead of handing over ARI land, ministry of commerce may be offered another piece of land, measuring from 50 to 100 acres near Rashkai industrial zone near the Motorway.

The summary said Arif Khosa, a representative of commerce ministry visited the site and agreed to the change of site as more appropriate.

It added that on June 16, 2016, a meeting of the project’s steering committee was informed that the Senate standing committee on commerce had directed to set up the expo centre at the ARI premises; therefore, KP government should immediately process the case for transferring the land to the ministry of commerce.

It said that it was also decided that now onwards, KP industries department would be focal department for the expo centre project instead of agriculture department.

However, the industries department also declared Rashkai site as more viable and suitable for the purpose.

The summary proposed that either the chief minister should take up the matter with commerce ministry to set up the centre at Rashkai or to transfer the ARI land to the industries department for the purpose.

The then secretary of the agriculture department opined that the transfer of a large portion of the land would render the ARI incapacitated.

He said that Rashkai site was more suitable for the purpose. However, he noted that as chief minister had approved allocate 20-25 acres of ARI land for the expo centre and his predecessor has already signed the MoU to give effect to CM’s approval; therefore, his office has no other option other than to endorse this decision.

A source said the conversion of the IRI’s land for any other purpose was a violation of land acquisition act.

He said the expo centre was a good initiative and would generate many economic opportunities; however, at the same time transferring the IRI’s land for this purpose defied logic. “Governments had thousands of acres of land at its disposal in other areas and it was unwise to deprive the research centre of its property,” he added.

When contacted, industries secretary Farah Hamid Khan insisted that all stakeholders, including business community, favoured the establishment of the centre at its current site.

“It was a consensus decision of all concerned,” she said.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2017

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