Dawn Editorial 30 August 2019

Bahria settlement dues

NO individual or organisation pronounced guilty of a crime should be able to profit from it.
Recent developments in the Bahria Town Karachi case present a situation where the possibility of precisely such a travesty of justice can arise.
On Wednesday, the Sindh government submitted an application to the Supreme Court, asking that the amount due from Bahria Town as settlement for 16,896 acres of government land, illegally acquired in district Malir for its housing project in Karachi, be deposited in the provincial account.
In March, the Supreme Court’s implementation bench accepted the real estate developer’s offer to pay Rs460bn over seven years in order to acquire the rights to the land.
The Sindh government in its application assured the apex court it would use the money for its development projects in a transparent manner under a committee appointed by the chief minister.
Some days ago, the federal government filed a similar application, except this one asked that the money be deposited in its public account. A tussle seems to be shaping up between the centre and the Sindh government: after all, Rs460bn — nearly $3bn — is nothing to sneeze at.
While Sindh appears to have a justifiable claim to proceeds from the settlement of land within its jurisdiction, it is instructive to revisit the Supreme Court’s May 4, 2018 verdict. The judgement took several government bodies to task for colluding with Bahria in its wholesale theft of state land; for instance, it denounced the Malir Development Authority’s role as “a brazen betrayal of the trust of the state and the people” and that of the provincial government as a “collaborator”. In short, it made no bones about what it described as a “backdoor understanding” between Bahria and the relevant authorities. Therefore, if the court does give the money to Sindh, it must ensure an ironclad monitoring mechanism so that the funds can be transparently disbursed, in part to investors, and for various development projects.
The question as to where the money is spent merits careful consideration.
In 2015, the Sindh government earmarked over 14,000 acres in Malir for low-cost housing. Instead, as we now know, many of its functionaries immersed themselves in facilitating a for-profit housing project. Giving concrete shape to those ‘planned’ low-housing schemes, of which there is a dire shortage all across the country, thus seems a logical option.
Lastly, amid all the talk of third-party interest — meaning the investors in BTK — in the subject land, the rights of the indigenous communities who have lived there for generations have gone virtually unacknowledged. Their assent was neither sought nor freely given in the ‘sale’ of their small patches of agricultural land, and they must be adequately compensated. However, one may well ask, what is fair compensation for being driven from one’s land that provided both shelter and livelihood?


Human trafficking

THIS week, a seminar in the capital city highlighted that a disproportionate number of Pakistani women and girls were trapped in the human trafficking trade. Speakers informed participants that the ages of the victims ranged between two and 50 years old, and underscored the need for greater, nationwide efforts to create awareness of the presence of human trafficking rings, while providing survivors the help and tools they needed to reintegrate back into society. The illegal trade of people through the use of deception, coercion or force remains one of the most pressing issues of our time, but it is by no means a new phenomenon in human history. It may be talked about more now, but not enough, when keeping in mind the scale of this evil practice. While boys and men typically get entangled in vicious rackets for the purpose of forced labour, young girls and women in particular are susceptible to sex trafficking, lured by promises of employment and new wealth awaiting them in other lands, or through the use of brute violence and kidnapping. The shocking revelation of Pakistani brides being tricked into sexual slavery in China was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Mostly from poor Christian families in Punjab, the women married Chinese men in the hopes of a better life, only to find themselves sold into sexual slavery once they reached their new home.
While it is difficult to collect accurate data on such undercover activity — a fact acknowledged by all organisations working to end the practice — the UN released a report on global human trafficking trends in 2018, noting that a growing number of girls were the victims of this illicit trade. According to their findings, girls accounted for 23pc of all trafficking victims in 2016, while women made up 49pc. Many of the victims hail from conflict zones, and as they try to escape oppressive conditions of violence, discrimination and poverty, they become vulnerable to predators lurking in their midst. Eradicating human trafficking is on the list of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals for 2030. While Pakistan has made some progress when it comes to legislature — most notably, passing the Prevention of Trafficking in Persons Act last year — implementing the law on ground remains a challenge. According to estimates, thousands of Pakistanis become prey to traffickers each year, and with rising poverty and income disparity, the challenge will only rise.


Sheikh Rashid’s ‘war’

A railways minister should mind the phenomenon that is the rail line, especially in Pakistan, where some of its 12,000 kilometres-long tracks are rusting. War and peace do not fall in his domain, except to ensure that the system is maintained at all times.
Sheikh Rashid Ahmad, however, seems to have his priorities wrong, for we often find the loquacious minister making forays into issues that do not concern him. The other day, he criticised the minister for science and technology for tweeting about a proposal, later clarified by the foreign minister, to deny Pakistan’s airspace to India. He said it was not the science minister’s job to talk about cabinet decisions. We wish the railways minister applied the same principle to himself.
Speaking at a function in Rawalpindi on Wednesday to express solidarity with the people of India-held Kashmir, Mr Ahmad said he foresaw a war with India in October or November. It is of course true that Narendra Modi’s recent actions in IHK poses a serious threat to regional peace, but what made the minister come to this rather precise conclusion, and was it really his duty to potentially create a public scare?
Those whose duty it is to keep the gunpowder dry to meet any eventuality know their job — they proved it well in February. For a government official to talk recklessly about war is an act of gross irresponsibility.
The minister ought to leave war and peace to the right quarters and instead paid attention to the issues plaguing Pakistan Railways, of which there are many. Wide sections of the tracks have been damaged by the ongoing monsoon, not to mention already crumbling infrastructure and chronic system failures that have resulted in all too many rail accidents in the months since he took charge of the portfolio. The minister once promised to revamp the railways within 120 days. His zeal would be best applied towards fulfilling this much-delayed pledge.

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