The sale of 40 kilometres of railway track in Bahawalpur believed to be worth Rs3.8 billion for just Rs90 million dominated Senate proceedings for a second day on Wednesday, though there were few members in attendance.
Senator Muhammad Ali Durrani demanded that Senate Chairman Farooq H Naik order a parliamentary probe into the alleged scam. The chairman had summoned Minister for Railways Ghulam Ahmed Bilour to answer questions about the sale on Wednesday but he did not turn up.
According to Durrani, the historic railway track in Bahawalpur was originally valued at Rs3.8 billion but sold for just Rs90 million to ‘Nawaz & Co’, a Lahore-based company, by the Punjab government’s fisheries department.
The senator said that the track was the only link between Ahmadpur and the Panjnad Headworks in Bahawalpur. He said that today, it would cost Pakistan Railways Rs95 million per kilometre to lay the railway track.
The divisional superintendent of Pakistan Railways, Multan, wrote two letters, the first on March 17 and the second dated March 21, asking the government not to proceed with the sale and to seek a no objection certificate from Pakistan Railways, he maintained.
Despite the Railways’ and parliamentarians’ reservations, the contractor had expedited the removal of the track.
Naik referred the issue to the standing committee concerned with directions to submit a report within a week. The senators expressed displeasure over the railways minister’s absence. Senator Zahid Khan, Bilour’s colleague in the Awami National Party, tried to appease the enraged senators.
He said senior Pakistan Railways officials should have been present in the house in case the minister was engaged. He also urged the chair to ask the Punjab government to stop the removal of the rail track.
The Senate extended a warm welcome to a visiting delegation of Afghan parliamentarians, giving them a standing ovation when they entered the guest gallery to witness the proceedings.
After a speech by the Senate chairman, PPP Secretary General Jahangir Badr
welcomed the Afghan parliamentarians on behalf of his party. He said the formation of the Pak-Afghan friendship association and a joint parliamentarians’ group would promote better ties between the two countries.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 31st, 2011.