CHAKWAL: With an estimated population of more than 25,000 people, Dhudial is one of the few larger villages in the Chakwal district.
Spread on both sides of the Chakwal-Mandra Road, the village was a major market till the partition of India and Pakistan and was inhabited by wealthy Hindus and Sikhs.
In 1917, the Railways Department acquired more than 50 acres in the village for building a railway station as the Mandra-Chakwal railway track had already been laid down in 1915.
The railway track was dismantled in 1991.
The land around the railway station has for many years been used as a playground and for other cultural activities.
The land was leased to a property tycoon, Raja Masood in 2002 who had not been able to use it due to legal issues till now.
This land must be used for public welfare and not for making money for the railways, says a local bodies official
A few days ago, residents of the village woke up to banners of the ‘Jinnah Commercial’ plan. Some of the banners read: “With ownership rights of 99 years, here is a new way for your business”, while others say, “Carpeted road, 24-hour security, street lights, instant possession and instant transfer”.
According to documents obtained by Dawn, Pakistan Railways had in 2002 leased out 25 acres of land along the Mandra-Chakwal railway track in the village to Raja Masood, who deals in property in Rawalpindi.
The land was leased out for 99 years for Rs80 million.
According to the contract, the lessee had to deposit this amount in a year in four instalments.
The locals protested when Mr Masood launched a project there in 2003 and no one showed interest in buying the land.
Because the land did not sell, Mr Masood could not pay the amount he owed to Pakistan Railways in a year which led to the cancellation of the contract.
A legal battle ensued between the lessee and Pakistan Railways in the Islamabad High Court which ended in 2009 with Mr Masood’s contract being revived after he deposited Rs30 million including a fine to the railways.
No development work was carried out on the land from 2002 till 2017 due to the legal battle and because the locals were hostile to the project.
However, development work was started on the land again a few days ago. A launching ceremony was held in the town which was attended by the Rawalpindi deputy mayor though the local politicians who were invited did not attend.
The centuries-old banyan trees on the land have been cut down and the old railway station building may also be torn down.
Chakwal District Council Vice Chairman Chaudhry Khurshid Baig held a press conference in opposition to the project and vowed to resist the “malicious move to grab public land”.
“This was the only place where the youth of Dhudial would play and school games were also held here every year.
The annual village fair and funeral prayers were also held here,” Mr Baig said while talking to Dawn.
According to an order issued by the Punjab Board of Revenue on July 6, 2009 available with Dawn, Pakistan Railways cannot sell or lease the land for commercial purposes.
This controversy over the land continues between the Punjab government and Pakistan Railways.
“Our forefathers gave this land to the railways in the 1900s for the purpose of laying down the railway track, which was dismantled in the 1990s. Now, this land must be used for public welfare and not for making money for the railways,” Mr Baig said.
Former chief justice of Pakistan Chaudhry Iftikhar Mohammad Ahmed had in 2009 taken suo motu notice of the matter after reading a column by Malik Fidaur Rehman, who works for Nawa-i-Waqt and hails from Chakwal,in which he talked about the need for reviving the Mandra-Chakwal Railway Track.
The then chairman of Pakistan Railways told the Supreme Court that there was a good chance of this revival due to the cement factories in the area.
“Instead of reviving the track, the public land worth Rs3 billion has been sold for 99 years for Rs80 million.
We have filed a contempt of court case before the SC as it had in its order of 2009 directed for the revival of the track,” Mr Rehman told Dawn.
When asked, Mr Masood said he was given the land after the completion of legal formalities and that the railways had invited bids for leasing the land.
Chakwal MNA retired Major Tahir Iqbal and Senator retired Lt Gen Abdul Qayum told Dawn they were trying for the railway track to be revived.
“Our roads cannot cater to the cement-laden trucks,” Mr Iqbal said.
“I discussed the issue with Railways Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique and he promised the track will be revived,” the senator said.
When asked, Railway Estate Development and Marketing Company Managing Director Zubair Hashmi said the land was leased according to the law as it was surplus.
“We are not responsible for providing play grounds,” he said, adding that land along the track has been kept for the revival of the track.
Published in Dawn, March 18th, 2017
Courtesy : DAWN