Pervasive corruption in this country has not spared even the Gwadar development project, crown jewel of the China Pakistan Economic Corridor, even though it is at the centre of national attention. According to a press statement issued the other day by the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) Chairman, Justice Javed Iqbal, investigations show the Gwadar Industrial Estate Development Authority had completely ignored the rules in allotting commercial and industrial plots in the port city, distributing them among favourites and relatives with the help of facilitators (revenue authority and provincial government officials). In so doing, notes the statement, applications of eligible industrial and other investors were rejected.
Distressing as this information is, it comes as no surprise. It has been a while when press reports revealed that some 12,000 acres of state land were illegally allotted to certain individuals with the support of politically influential people and in connivance of revenue officials. Illegality of the activity was challenged in the relevant forum and the land was restored to the government. Still, some of the beneficiaries of this largesse wouldn't give up. They approached the revenue authorities and managed to grab back 3,167 acres of state land from a helpful senior member of the Revenue Board. The giveaway, once again, was challenged and suspended by the Board sitting in full strength, and later the suspension was upheld by the High Court. The affair is full of deceit and fraud. As the court remarked "nobody knows how the settled land owned by the state has been transferred to the private sector that too for peanuts". It also made the unsurprising observation that "the provincial government and the Board of Revenue cannot be absolved of their responsibility in this regard."
Someone has to pay a price for such corrupt practices; in this case, probably the entire country. For these illegal allotments can only discourage genuine investors, adversely impacting the development of various projects associated with the new port. The NAB chairman's decision to pursue the case cannot be welcomed enough. He has vowed to deal with an iron hand the corrupt, he said, are out to jeopardize economic progress of Gwadar. Hopefully, all those involved in the scam will finally be brought to account, putting a complete stop to this illegal and unfair practice. Aside from dishonest distribution of state lands, there is also the issue of land acquisitions from local people at cheap rates. Attention should be paid to it. Once the development process picks up speed, the prices will rise, causing heartburn among not only those affected in Gwadar but in all of Balochistan where a sense of deprivation is already very high. The city planners need to come up with price regulations before it is too late.