Pak parl panel takes up issue of illegal sale of Sikh land

Pak parl panel takes up issue of illegal sale of Sikh land

A total of 575 kanals of land attached to the two shrines – Samadh Bhai Maan Singh and Gurdwara Deh – in the village within Lahore cantonment were sold to the DHA by the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which is responsible for managing the properties of Pakistan's minority communities.

The Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly or lower house of parliament has summoned ETPB chief Syed Asif Hashmi, minority affairs ministry Secretary Javed Akhtar and other officials involved in the controversial deal.

"I think now the controversy will be settled after the intervention of the Public Accounts Committee," Hashmi told PTI.Under the Evacuee Trust Property Board Management and Disposal Act of 1975, the body's function is to develop agriculture land for increasing its productivity and enhancing the commercial value of its property.

Instead of developing the land for increasing its productivity, the board allegedly sold it to the DHA in a deal that changed the very nature of the agriculture land into residential plots. The ETPB is not vested with power to do so, official sources said.The sources said the ETPB had concealed facts about the disposal of agriculture land attached to Sikh shrines from the minority affairs ministry to obtain its approval for the deal.

"The nature of the land involved in the sale is Waqf land attached to a religious shrine of the Sikh community. This land was initially attached to the shrine with the object that the produce obtained by cultivating this land would be spent on the maintenance of the shrine," a source said.

"The development of agricultural activity was also envisaged in such dedication. The conversion of such land into residential plots thus distorted the very purpose of such edication of the land," the source said.However, Hashmi defended the deal, saying he had finalised it in the best interest of the ETPB.

"The land sold to DHA is not attached to any Sikh shrine. We removed the land attached to Gurdwara Bebe Nanki immediately from the deal after we realised our mistake," he said."Actually former ETPB chairman, Lt Gen Javed Nasir, had sold part of the Trust's land while another chairman, Lt Gen Zulfiqar Ali Khan, had transferred part of the land to DHA for residential plots," he alleged.

Hashmi said he had "made the best possible deal with DHA" and obtained 25 per cent exempted residential plots and 10 commercial plots."This is unprecedented," he said.The ETPB was not getting even a single penny in revenue from tenants, which was one of the factors that prompted it to accept the DHA's offer, he added.

The ETPB had initially offered land attached to Gurdwara Bebe Nanki (established at the birthplace of Guru Nanak's sister) at Dera Chahal village but withdrew it after the Sikh community in India and North America strongly protested the deal.A secret probe by the minority affairs ministry into the sale of land to the DHA has confirmed that the deal was "less than clean", according to a recent media report.The probe was conducted after the Indian government protested against the sale of the land.