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KP govt bans Peshawar park’s handover amid controversy

KP govt bans Peshawar park’s handover amid controversy

PESHAWAR: The controversy surrounding the Chacha Younas Park deepened on Friday after the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa government banned the handing and taking over of the park built in the provincial capital over a Hindu heritage site.

In August this year, the KP local government department (LG&RD) had decided that the Chacha Younas Park located on GT Road near Peshawar’s Hashtnagri area was the property of the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) and therefore, it would be handed over to that federal government entity.

However, a statement issued here on Friday said provincial chief secretary Mohammad Azam Khan while taking notice of the row over the park’s land issued directions to ‘freeze any progress between provincial and federal governments’.

It added that the chief secretary directed the senior member of the Board of Revenue to examine the matter and submit the relevant records to him.

The documents available with Dawn show that on August 7, a meeting chaired by the LG&RD secretary, where the Town-I administration was asked to the produce the documentary proof of their claim to the disputed land.

ETPB says will challenge move in court as it owns Chacha Younas Park

The minutes of the meeting note that Town-I nazim Zahid Nadeem however said he didn’t have documents to prove the administration’s ownership of the park and that the park’s land was the property of the ETPB.

The nazim however proposed that the land be given to Town-I administration on a long lease. The proposal promoted the ETPB officials to ask the town administration to move a formal request to them for the lease to be processed and placed before the entity’s board for decision.

The minutes quote the officials as telling the meeting that if the board accepted the request, then the case for lease was processed accordingly otherwise the land would be handed over the ETPB.

“After thorough and in-depth discussion, consensus was developed that as per the law department’s view and record produced, the disputed land in question is the real property of the EPTB,” the minutes of the meeting said, adding, however, the management of the Town-I is at liberty to initiate a formal request for hiring this land on lease for the purpose of a public park. “The decision of the lease rests with EPTB,” the minutes concluded.

Irfan Saleem, a PTI member of the Town-I Council, told Dawn that Chacha Younas Park was the town’s property and that there was a plan to hand it over to the EPTB and then commercialise it to benefit vested interests.

He said the town administration opposed the park’s handover to the EPTB as on one hand, the move would deprive it of a source of revenue and on the other, it will lead to the commercialisation of a heritage site.

The councillor said the family park was built over 18 kanals of land and that its cost would be over Rs14 billion on the market.

“On Monday, we’d asked the nazim to convene a meeting of the town council to discuss the issue but he flatly refused. Would the district administration be ready to hand over the Shahi Bagh in case some people come up with a claim to it,” he said, adding that currently, the district government was in the possession of around 28,000 such properties.

When contacted, EPTB deputy administrator Asif Khan said he hadn’t heard about the KP government’s ban on the Chacha Younas Park’s handover.

He said earlier, the LG&RD department had agreed to the EPTB’s ownership of the park in writing.

“It is our property and therefore, they (government) can’t place a ban on it,” he said, adding that the EPTB would challenge the move in the court of law.

Mr Asif said the former KP strongman, General Fazli Haq had handed over the property in question to the Peshawar Development Authority (PDA) in 1985 but in 1987, the PDA declined an EPTB offer to purchase it.

He said the board could prove its ownership of that property before the Board of Revenue as well as chief secretary.

The park was built in 1989 and named after Umar Younas Khan, the first Muslim chief of Peshawar municipality and was turned into a family park in 2005.

Before its renaming, the place was known as Panj Tirath and ascribed to Pandavas, the heroes of the Hindu epic the Mahabharata.

“As the name would indicate, there are five holy bathing places or ‘tirathas’, shades by some sacred pipal trees of great age. The Brahmans of today trace its origin to the five sons of Pandu -- the heroes of Mahabharta...The site is a place of great veneration to the Hindu community; it is used for cremation purposes,” noted the old gazetteer of Peshawar.

Published in Dawn, November 4th, 2017

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