Monday, January 3, 2011

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: Rs5 billion land scam leads to chief minister house

A mind-boggling Rs5 billion land scam has hit Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa after Chief Minister Ameer Haider Khan Hoti secretly approved the allotment of 170 acres of olive orchards to an unknown construction and manufacturing firm.

The Rawalpindi-based M/s NI Associates, reportedly owned by a front man of a top Awami National Party (ANP) leader, purchased the land at a throwaway price. Hoti had cancelled a 12-year-old lease agreement with the federal government’s olive oil research station at Mardan, spelling the demise of the multi-billion rupee project to promote edible oil production in Pakistan.

The market price of 170 acres or 1,361 kanals of agricultural land, now given to the private party located on Mardan-Swabi road, has been estimated at Rs5 billion. The commercial value of 20,000 mature olive trees and other fruit orchards and machinery has yet to be ascertained in monetary terms. The olive trees were gifted by Turkey and Italy to help Pakistan attain self-sufficiency in edible oil in a bid to help it reduce its import bill, which has touched $2 billion per annum.

The whole drama of allotment unfolded when a 100-strong police contingent led by a DSP raided Pakistan Oil Development Board (PODB)’s research station on December 3 – the same day the land was officially allotted in favour of one Mr Javed Iqbal. The police broke the locks and kicked out its employees. It took control of the orchards at gun point and gave them in Mr Iqbal’s possession.

The lease agreement between the provincial Auqaf department which owned the land and PODB was to end in 2012 but the provincial government prematurely terminated the contract.

Mr Mushtaq, Provincial Director, PODB research farm, Mardan, wrote a strongly-worded letter in protest to Administrator Auqaf, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Inaam Khan. The police raid was a breach of the law of the land, norms and official decorum and in detriment to the nation’s interests, the letter said.

The mother olive orchard and germplasm unit was to be used for obtaining bud wood for grafting onto wild olive trees. He warned that PODB would not vacate these olive oil orchards, considering the fact that the infrastructure was developed at huge financial cost and ten years’ research and experimentation.

Hundreds of official documents confirming the land scam, available with The Express Tribune, reveal that PODB was informed on December 6, 2010, by Inaam Khan in writing that Mr Javed Iqbal of M/s NI Associates was to take possession of the land.

“You are requested to kindly shift the equipments/machinery lying on the premises of the said Auqaf land within ten days time so that the site be cleared for the new lessee.”

The competent authority had approved the long lease of plot measuring 1,361 kanals at Machi Sangbhatti, Marddan to M/s NI Associates Construction Manufacturing Trading Consultancy of Modern farming of 155-A, Bank Road Saddar Rawalpindi at the rate of Rs1,200 per kanal for twenty years, read the original notification.

Twelve different varieties of olive trees were planted on 140 acres of land from 2001 to 2005. A germplasm unit was also established on 10 acres. Twelve olive cultivators of 288 plants were imported from different countries for evaluation. The performance of these cultivators was to be completed over three years. University students were to do research work in these orchards. PODB’s research farm had also installed six green houses for olive production. Presently, 10,000 of air layering were shifted and remaining nursery was in progress.

A metrological station used for recording temperature, humidity, chilling hours, wind speed data has also passed into the hands of the new lessee, along with three tube wells and a drip irrigation system.

This correspondent made telephone calls to Secretary, Auqaf department, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, Mr Nauman Shah Jadoon and to Administrator Auqaf, Mr Inaam Khan, to get their point of view. They refused to attend their calls. Nor did the gentlemen reply to text messages sent on their mobile phones.

Published in The Express Tribune

Namak Mandi: Lamb like you’ve never had before

Presenting a unique blend of taste and recipes to attract customers in the winter season, Peshawar’s famed Namak Mandi has become an exceptional food centre where most visitors can hardly resist the aroma of Tikka Karahi.

Located near Shuba Bazaar, Namak Mandi is a joyous place where people come for a few moments of respite from routine activities with the flavour of delicious and unique tikkas from the numerous restaurants.

The recent National Games in Peshawar gave further impetus to business activities as sports lovers visited this food centre in large numbers and enjoyed the traditional food.

“People often visit five star hotels to enjoy their favourite cuisine, but one taste of tikka karahi in Namak Mandi will change their opinions instantly,” said Khurshid Khan, who visited Namak Mandi on Sunday. “Whenever I come to Peshawar, I visit Namak Mandi because the mutton cooked here is tasty and cholesterol-free. However, he noted the rise in tikka karahi prices over the past few years, which needed monitoring.

Namak Mandi took 50 years to develop to its current status, and its delicious, traditional tikka karahi attracts both foreign and local tourists. Sitting at the carpeted floor or on charpoys at any restaurant, one can see fresh lamb hanging on racks, and black woks (karahi) set above burning charcoal.

The meat is prepared according to the customers taste and put in the wok, along with tomatoes, chillies and garlic. The fat-content and vegetables form thick gravy in which the meat is cooked. People then eat the tikka karahi with flat bread and several cups of green tea.

Whether fried in a wok or Barbequed on charcoal, the dish is rarely found in any other part of the province.

One of Namak Mandi’s most famous personalities Nisar, better known by his trade name Charsi, said he had started with a small outlet after his father’s death, and after 30 years of hard work and commitment to the business, Nisar has now established a restaurant named Sheesh Mahal.

He says the special cooking technique is one that he had inherited from his forefathers. “We don’t use ghee and excessive spices but instead cook the mutton in its own fat, making it uniquely delicious,” he said and claimed to sell 130 to 150 lambs a day.

Another restaurant owner recalls the days when his father started his business 50 years back. “My father, Muhammad Mashooq Qureshi, started Tikka Karahi in the 50s when there were only three shops, now there are 30,” said Haji Maqsood Qureshi.

There are some 30 tikka shops in Namak Mandi, the most famous of which are Charsi Tikka, Khan Tikka and Mehran Tikka. People throng the bazaar, especially the famous trio of shops at lunch and dinner.

Tikka Shops Association President Khan Baz said around 2,000 families are attached to the mutton selling business, which, he added, had earned international fame.

Baz said that despite local and foreign tourists’ arrival at Namak Mandi, the authorities concerned were not paying heed towards cleanliness of the bazaar. He stressed the need to highlight Namak Mandi at regional and international level “to promote a soft image of Pakistan.”

Published in The Express Tribune