HYDERABAD: Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrested three Sindh Bank officials on Saturday night after registering an FIR of scam related to land acquisition for M6 (Hyderabad-Sukkur) motorway.

The case was registered vide FIR No. 10/22 under Sections 409, 419 420, 468, 471, 477-A, and 109 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) read with Section 5(2) Act-II, 1947 PCA on the complaint of National Highway Authority (NHA) general manager Parkash Lohano.

The complainant has referred to the report of a fact-finding committee, formed by Sindh government, which was incorporated in FIA’s case. Mr Lohano stated that the NHA, being land acquiring agency, had issued funds amounting to Rs3,618m to Naushahro Feroze deputy commissioner for acquiring about 1,500 acres of land in the district for the M6 project.

He said that it was reported that some amounts were disposed of through one cheque without announcement of the award under Section 11 of the Land Acquisition Act 1894, under which it was necessary that award should be announced in the presence of acquisition agency and landowners.

Naushahro Feroze DC at the centre of over Rs3bn fraud; NHA general manager lodges complaint with FIA to facilitate inquiry

Mr Lohano said that Naushahro Feroz DC deposited the amount in Sindh Bank, instead of Sindh Treasury Accounts as was advised by the NHA.

He said that on receiving complaint of suspicious transaction or misuse of funds, Sindh government notified a fact-finding committee.

The complainant has mentioned nine points of the committee’s report which show that the account office of Naushahro Feroz DC was used for transaction and request for cash requirement was made in advance for the cheques to be issued in advance dates.

BoR, NAB guidelines ignored

The points revealed that some cheques were issued as ‘open’ instead of being ‘crossed’ whereas compensation against land acquisition was approved on photostat papers to the people who resided abroad. The entire process of land acquisition did not follow the guidelines issued by the Board of Revenue (BoR) and National Accountability Bureau (NAB) time to time. Payment of huge amounts were made on affidavits and the signatures they contained differed from those of recipients’ NICs.

The report noted that compensation was paid on simple statement of power of attorney. DC attested all documents without identification of tapedar or any revenue official. Compensation heirs of deceased landowner was paid on simple affidavits. The award under Section 11 was passed without informing the acquiring agency about the area to be acquired and survey numbers falling under the project.

Mr Lohano further referred to the fact-finding committee’s report which revealed that the B Form, compliance under Section 5, 7 and 8, notice issued under Section-9, award statement, accounts book and payment register were missing. He said these facts showed that DC disbursed land acquisition funds suspiciously without fulfillment of LAA 1894 requirement such as award, fixing of price of land and area to be acquired.

The committee has recommended that federal agencies, including FIA and NAB, could be approached to register a criminal case for further probing suspicious transactions, misuse of NHA funds and also placing the officers concerned on exit control list (ECL).

Sindh Bank’s complaint

During the course of the FIR inquiry, senior executive vice president of Sindh Bank Asad Ali Shah also filed a complaint (incorporated in the FIR) regarding the scam. Its contents revealed that preliminary findings of matter of Naushahro Feroze indicated certain illegalities in terms of cash payments, cheating, forgery, fraud, misappropriation, embezzlement or tampering in documents in the account of land acquirer (A/c No. 01051635061000) for land acquisition in Naushahro Feroze at the branch which might result in a loss of Rs2.52bn to the national exchequer.

The bank representative’s complaint mentioned that Mukhtiar Ali Chandio, branch manager, Atta Hussain Sahito, branch operation manager, and Zeeshan Ali Larik, cash officer, should be booked. “These three Sindh Bank officials have been arrested,” said an FIA source. DC Nausharo Feroze has already absconded.

The FIR mentioned that during the course of inquiry, statement of bank officials were recorded. They revealed that several cheques which were issued in the names of different beneficiary individuals were entertained or passed without conducting biometric verification and in order to hide such illegality, fake and fabricated biometric verification reports were prepared.

DC’s conduct

The FIR stated that DC Tashfeen Alam (proceeded abroad) deliberately, and intentionally did not attend call of land acquiring agency (NHA) while hearing claimants and while passing award, hence violated mandatory provision of LAA. Thus, it appeared that the LAO/DC in collusion with banking officials committed embezzlement or misappropriation in federal government funds.

Officials requesting anonymity said forensic inquiry would be needed insofar as Naushahro Feroze M6 land scam was concerned. “It is entirely technical issue,” said one official based in Karachi. He said that Sindh government’s inquiry committee found that ‘award’ was passed with some defects. “Multiple cheques were issued to one purported beneficiary/landowner,” he remarked.

Another source quoting NHA officials commented that none of NHA representatives was called for acquisition of land in Naushahro Feroze. “NHA being land acquiring agency can raise objection over cost of land being determined through LAA procedure,” he said, and disclosed that different lands were acquired in any project under the LAA, 1894 like barren land, lands with orchards, standing crops or forestation or any structure. “In each case of these classifications, a separate committee is supposed to be formed with experts from relevant department like forest, agriculture etc so that actual cost could be determined/verified according to the class of land. No such committee is formed,” he said. He observed that Naushahro Feroze DC’s departure from the country had made things too obvious.

Published in Dawn, November 28th, 2022

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