CPEC body seeks recovery of Gwadar land

Occupation of 116 acres of prime land causes slowdown in work on Gwadar projects


Shahbaz Rana February 23, 2021
The CPEC is a better future for all. Make it so. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD:

The Cabinet Committee on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) on Monday directed ministries to immediately get 116 acres of prime Gwadar land vacated, which was under the possession of law enforcement agencies and was hampering work on CPEC.

The delay in getting the land vacated has slowed down work on the Gwadar Free Zone and Gwadar Eastbay Expressway - the two projects that were very critical for the full functioning of Gwadar Port, showed official documents.

Headed by Minister for Planning and Development Asad Umar, the cabinet panel directed the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence to play their part in getting the land vacated. Under the Pak-China Gwadar Port agreement, the land has been leased out to Chinese companies. Asad Umar was not available for comments.

The CPEC committee said that the Ministry of Defence should issue directives to Pakistan Navy to vacate 72 acres of land. Similarly, the committee directed the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Defence to play their role in getting vacated another 44 acres of land, which was under the possession of Pakistan Coast Guards (PCG).

Sources said Minister for Maritime Affairs Ali Zaidi underscored that the Gwadar Port Master Plan should be implemented in true letter and spirit by removing the occupants. Zaidi was also not available for comments.

It was the second time in the past two weeks that the CPEC committee discussed the occupation of Gwadar land. The committee struggled to reach consensus on the issue and again threw the ball in the ministries’ court, which could not resolve the land dispute. Pakistan Coast Guards owned 44 acres of land, which is now part of the Eastbay Expressway project. The Eastbay Expressway will connect Gwadar Port with the Makran Coastal Highway.

Pakistan Navy is holding 72 acres of land which, according to the master plan, is part of the Gwadar Free Zone.

Out of the 44 acres, the Pakistan Coast Guards has so far vacated 19 acres and the federal cabinet in May last year approved Rs58 million in compensation for the demolished structures. However, official documents revealed that despite taking compensation of Rs58 million, the Pakistan Coast Guards has again started construction on the land under its possession.

The cabinet committee was told that Pakistan Coast Guards was “flouting” instructions of the Prime Minister’s Office and was not vacating the land.

“Illegal construction is taking place on 25 acres of the Gwadar Free Zone occupied by Pakistan Coast Guards without permission of the Ministry of Maritime Affairs.”

The 25 acres of land has been leased to Chinese concession holders for the Gwadar Free Zone, port operations and the Eastbay Expressway project.

It has been proposed that instead of 25 acres, the Pakistan Coast Guards may be allocated 50 acres in the joint cantonment area, Gwadar. However, there were issues in giving possession of land in the cantonment area.

During a meeting held in Gwadar in September 2020, it had been decided that the Pakistan Coast Guards may be allotted land in the southern part of cantonment area.

The Gwadar Development Authority said that for the establishment of a cantonment, 12,000 acres had been earmarked in the master plan of Gwadar city. Out of this, 50 acres has been allocated to the Pakistan Coast Guards but possession has not been given.

In June 2005, the then prime minister Shaukat Aziz and then president General Pervez Musharraf had told the Pakistan Coast Guards to “immediately vacate the land for utilisation as per Gwadar Port master plan”.

The federal government again gave instructions to the Pakistan Coast Guards in February 2018 to comply with the president’s orders issued in 2005. In January 2019, Planning Minister Khursro Bakhtyar asked the Ministry of Interior to immediately resolve the issue to ensure timely completion of the Eastbay Expressway.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs informed the cabinet committee that Pakistan Navy had already been allocated 1,000 acres in the Pishukun area of Gwadar, instead of 584 acres, which was under its possession in the Gwadar Free Zone.

However, Pakistan Navy still held 72 acres out of the 584 acres.

The Ministry of Defence was of the view that it did not receive instructions from the PM Office.

In its summary for the CPEC committee, the maritime affairs secretary stated that the Ministry of Defence in August 2020 “requested to allow Pakistan Navy to retain 84 acres of land with sea frontage along Gwadar Eastbay nearby the port in exchange for 84 acres in Pishkuan.”

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs stated that Pakistan would have to hand over the land to the Chinese concession holder to full its “international obligation”.

The Ministry of Maritime Affairs also raised the issue of Balochistan’s Gwadar city master plan, which was not in sync with the Gwadar Port master plan, approved by the federal government. The provincial government has imposed a ban on the acquisition of land which, according to the maritime affairs ministry, could hamper work on Gwadar Port in the medium to long term.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 23rd, 2021.

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