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Rawalpindi Ring Road scandal: Will the offenders be punished?

The story of the Rawalpindi ring road scam as publicized by the government authorities has some grim faults in it, and shows a huge deformation of facts as well involves a political angle that sheds light on the blame-game within the Pakistan Tehreek-e- Insaf (PTI).

Surprisingly, the government is disclosing selected sections of an investigation report that is essentially a minority report as two of the three-member inquiry commission have not signed it. As an alternative, two members presented their own statements which do not concur with what the head of the investigation team had come up with.

The inquiry report, which is publicized and owned by the government, is mostly based on numerous assumptions and shifts the blame largely on the ex-Commissioner. Indeed, all the decisions regarding the rearrangement of the road were discussed in immense detail and taken by the appropriate forums in Lahore.

Rawalpindi ring road Project

Rawalpindi Ring Road was visualized in 1997, yet for over more than two decades, no government could truly initiate the plan. In 2017, the last ineffective attempt to accomplish the project was made.

The PTI government after coming to power dusted off the plan proposal and started afresh. The proposal was significantly revised and upgraded. The Rawalpindi Ring Road would start from the GT Road near Rawat, and after connecting Lahore-Islamabad and Hakla-DI Khan motorways, would terminate at Sangjani, connecting to Margalla Highway.

Margalla Highway, being developed by CDA, would end on N-95 after Bara Kahu (bypassing the current traffic bottleneck) and from there the proposed eastern bypass would link back to the Ring Road, thus completing the full loop. The whole project once complete will redefine the twin cities. If successful, this could be a flagship project for the PTI government.

Tender for the project

The tender for the project was floated in March 2021 undertaken in public-private partnership mode. However, right before the bid submission time limit, the process was crumbled due to the controversy.

Reports alleged that a whopping Rs25 billion had been included in the scheme cost, while sources disclosed that a new 25km addition to the road had been made to benefit certain political individuals.

Commissioner Gulzar’s report and revelations

The fact-finding report that the commissioner had prepared in 10 days stated that some officials of Rawalpindi division, Punjab were involved in the scandal and some housing societies were benefitted when the alignment of the road was changed.

According to the report, the society owned 970 acres of land however, owner Junaid Chaudhry made 30,000 fake files and sold them in the market. Aviation Minister’s son Mansoor Khan is a partner in this natter. Only one agent earned Rs. 341 million in one month by selling files. The rest can be estimated, the report stated.

It alleged that ex-commissioner retired Capt Mehmood and suspended Land Acquisition commissioner Waseem Tabish wrongly paid Rs2.3 billion in compensation for land acquired in the Attock area.

The media is also being fed, informally, against another influential special assistant to the PM Zulfi Bukhari, advisor to the PM Barrister Shahzad Akbar and a federal minister from Rawalpindi division, Ghulam Sarwar Khan.

Zulfi Bukhari resigns

Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Overseas Pakistanis Zulfi Bukhari has resigned from his position owing to the allegations leveled against him in the Rawalpindi Ring Road project inquiry.

Taking to Twitter, Zulfi Bukhari said that he was resigning from the position until his name is cleared up of “any allegations and media’s obnoxious lies. I reiterate that I have nothing to do with Ring Road or any ongoing Real Estate project,” he added.

NAB to probe the scandal

Earlier, PM Imran instructed a full-fledged investigation into the Rawalpindi Ring Road project scandal after which the Punjab authorities decided to send the case to the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) or the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) for a thorough investigation.

Meanwhile, an official statement issued by the NAB headquarters said NAB chairman Javed Iqbal directed Rawalpindi NAB director general to conduct a transparent, merit-based and indiscriminate probe of the Rawalpindi Ring Road project in which billion of rupee corruption, irregularities and illegal land acquisition has been reported. The NAB chairman claimed that they had no affiliation with any group, individual and political party but the state of Pakistan.

Offenders must be fixed

Throughout his campaigns over the years, Prime Minister Imran Khan claimed several times that the government was introducing a new system of ‘reward and punishment’ under which civil servants would not be transferred but dismissed if found involved in irregularities and corruption.

As the country’s financial crisis gets worse, Imran Khan constantly highlights that rampant, uninhibited corruption from the highest to the lowest tiers of society and government is a key factor responsible for its dilemma as the authorities seem to fail to tackle the issues.

In the long run, we still hope that effectively fighting corruption will speed up national development in Pakistan so it is imperative, despite tall claims PM Imran needed to take piratical steps against those political elites involved in looting country and nation. 

In fact, lengthened periods of inquiry and continued uncertainty have deepened this schism between the government, bureaucracy and investors. It is therefore of paramount significance to immediately complete an impartial new inquiry into the issue and make the results public.

Now it is imperative to cover all sides and aspects of the project in the investigation so that responsibility could be fixed against all those allegedly involved in corrupt practices, corruption and culprits are brought to justice as per law and the project design should be modified.