Supreme Court Bans Construction on Pakistan Railways Lands–Worth Over $98 Billion

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Pakistan Railways owns lands (encumbered and unencumbered) far in excess of US$98 billion (Read below).

LAHORE — The Supreme Court on Thursday banned construction of housing societies on Railways’ lands and ordered seizure of all records pertaining to the Royal Palm Golf and Country Club (RPGCC) in Lahore.

The gilded country club was developed by a consortium of businessmen on leased railway land–in the 1960s, Pakistan Railways was said to own one-third of the city’s land.

“It was not a clean deal. Absolutely not,” said Nasir Khalili, chairman of the Gardens Club, an officers social club with 1,400 members that had to surrender its property, to the New York Times in 2013.

The National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which investigates official corruption, concluded then that the Royal Palm deal had cost the government millions of dollars in lost revenue and was built on the bones of the railways.

The country’s top court today issued directives to mend the wrongdoings, as the Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar heard a suo motu case pertaining to the lease of Railways’ land at its Lahore registry.

The court also nullified all previous orders given by the Lahore High Court (LHC) pertaining to the golf and country club. It directed that no records pertaining to the land shall be allowed to leave the premises of the club.

Then, the court dissolved the administration of Royal Palm and appointed the chartered accounting firm, Ferguson Company in its place, ordering it to seize all records.

The court further ordered that the old administration will not be allowed access to the club, however, all planned activities shall continue as planned.

The records of all cases pertaining to the club in the high court are also to be seized, the court said.

Later, the chief justice declared a ban on more than three-year lease of agricultural land belonging to Pakistan Railways and the construction of housing societies on it.

Moreover, the court told Ramzan Sheikh and his staff to relinquish charge of the club to the accounting firm for a forensic audit. It added that until an audit is complete, the club shall not rest with Sheikh or Pakistan Railways.

During the hearing, the court pored over Royal Palm’s “flawed contract”. It added that the contract has also been faulty, as it permitted the looting of billions of Rupees which was all done through alliance with the railways.

“This is railways land and we shall not allow any other entity to control it. The owners of RPGCC are so influential that half the country bows up to them,” the chief justice added.

It was during the hearing that Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed pleaded with the apex court to retrieve the railways land.

Justice Nisar then ordered that land belonging to Pakistan Railways shall not be leased for a time period of more than three years.

“If additional land is given to provinces, then the burden of selling it shall also rest with them. We will let the railways land be with the railways and if provinces have reservations then they should file petitions in accordance with the law.”

How much land Pakistan Railways own and its worth

Pakistan Railways owns and operates some 4800 miles of track passing through the rural and urban areas of the country–80 percent of these tracks trail through the rural landscape and 20 percent snakes through the cities and their suburbs. These tracks on the average have approximately 200 feet Right of Way (ROW) on each side. Adding up this huge envelope of land belonging to the Railways (excluding the tracks) amounts to a whopping figure of 232,727 acres land. Not all are encroached or poached though, but its worth is in billions of dollars.

To get an idea of the value of land Pakistan Railways (PR) own and available for monetization in public interest, here’s a quick calculation:

75% PR land in rural ares = 232,727 x 75% = 174,545 acres. At an average rate of Rs.12 lakh/acre and $1 @Rs130 = $1.611 billion.

25% PR land in urban areas = 232,727 x 25% = 58,182 acres. At an average rate of Rs.12 crore/acre and $1 @Rs130 = $53.71 billion.

The Railways also owns land parcels in urban areas and suburbs in all major cities large and small. According to an estimate, the total such land parcels spread all over in such cities and suburbs are in excess of 28,000 acres–and highly priced. At an average rate of Rs.20 crore/acre and $1 @Rs130 = $43.08 billion.

Adding all these figures up, the Pakistan Railways owns lands (encumbered and unencumbered) far in excess of US$98.40 billion. And, nearly 50 percent or more of the land has been either encroached (slums, etc.) or illegally occupied by land-grabbers for commercial reasons. The estimated value of this stranded asset could be as high as US$50 billion or even more.

The incumbent Railways Minister Sheikh Rasheed has vowed to use legal channels to resolve his deprtment’s land issue and add value to the asset on government level as well as in public-private partnership.

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