ISLAMABAD - At the time when National Highway Authority is preparing to restart decade-long stalled leasing process and presented 16 sites for an open auction, the Punjab government has locked its horns with the road authority, asking its existing leaseholders to vacate the premises immediately. 

Deputy Commissioner Jhelum Saif Anwar Jappa served vacation notices on at least four existing NHA’s leaseholders and asked them to vacate the premises before July 4, which not only creates unrest among the incumbent leaseholders but it will also affect a possible healthy competition for new leases as well due to prevailing uncertainty.

The Deputy Commissioner Jhelum while referring a judgment of the Supreme Court issued the notices and barred the NHA from leasing in the territorial limit of Punjab. Resultantly, the leaseholders were asked to remove their equipment before the deadline given and in case of failure the same would be confiscated.

The NHA is in conflict with the Punjab government, which had cancelled the mutation of the ROW of N-5 falling under the territorial limit of Punjab from NHA’s name during the tenure of former Chief Minister Punjab Chaudhry Pervez Elahi.  

And now the Supreme Court of Pakistan in its ruling while deciding the fate of 24 leases in district Lahore on January 12, 2019 in a case number HR- 69152-P/2016 had also barred the NHA from leasing process in the territorial limits of Punjab.

In addition to aforementioned legal lacunas, the absence of a ‘formal approval’ from the Economic Coordination Committee (ECC) which stopped the leasing process in 2009, also makes the whole process ‘doubtful’ and ‘controversial’ while same facts were listed in an earlier news story of Daily the Nation.

However, the top management of NHA remained ignorant about these facts and in its clarification to the story had stated that no such legal issues exist in the leasing process but now a strict stance taken by the Punjab government proved that the whole policy on behalf of road authority was ‘ill-conceived’ and ‘half-backed’. When contacted, General Manager Public Relations NHA Capitan (Retd) Mushtaq Ahmed has repeated his earlier stance and stated that according to NHA Act the roads along with their Right of Way will be mutated in favour of NHA/ federal government.

“Accordingly, the government of Punjab transferred/mutated N5/ GT Road in favour of NHA free of cost in 2001”, he informed adding: “Later on, Government of Punjab withdrew its decision and the same was challenged by NHA while relief was granted to NHA by various legal forums.”

While responding to the vacation notices issued by the DC Jhelum, he informed that the matter has been taken on highest level with the Punjab government and most probably the vacation notices would be withdrawn or held in abeyance till a final agreement between both federal and provincial governments.

Sources informed that there are total of 50 leases granted by NHA in different districts of Punjab while 40 out of total are the petrol pumps, which will have to be handed over to the Punjab Government if the judgment of the apex court would finally prevail.