LAHORE - In a major legislative act, the Punjab Assembly on Thursday empowered the Lahore Development Authority (LDA), previously a wing of the district government, to undertake all sort of planning and development in Lahore division, thus pulling it out of the purview of the future local governments in the four districts of Lahore, Sheikhupura, Nankana and Kasur.

Punjab chief minister would be its chairman under the new scheme of things, whereas District Nazim and later the DCO Lahore had been keeping this portfolio in the past 12 years when LDA was only one of the executing agencies of the Lahore City District Government.

Besides Lahore, the Authority would also look after the development needs of three other districts- Sheikhupura, Nankana and Kasur.  Under the new amendments made in the LDA Act, no local body or government agency would be authorised to prepare a planning or development scheme except with the concurrence of the Authority.  The Authority, however, may grant approval to private housing schemes, but subject to mortgage of 20 per cent plots of the scheme with the Authority against development and the clearance of all kinds of default under applicable laws. The housing schemes would also transfer minimum 50 per cent area of public building sites in the name of the Authority up to a maximum of two per cent of the scheme area.

It would also transfer land falling under roads, parks, open spaces, graveyards or other such services in the name of the Authority.  The Opposition in the Punjab Assembly opposed the amendments in LDA Act, but the Treasury rejected their amendment motions through majority vote. Mehmoodur Rashid, Mian Aslam Iqbal, Arif Abbasi and Dr Wasim Akhtar up the ante by opposing the bill.

Mahmoordur Rashid pleaded that LDA had failed to deliver in Lahore district and should not be entrusted with the responsibility of undertaking development work in other districts. He said government should empower the elected representatives instead of the bureaucrats.

Criticising the performance of LDA, PTI’s Mian Aslam Iqbal questioned the grant of Rs 4 million to present DG LDA, Ahad Cheema as reward for his good performance from tax payer’s money. He said LDA could not complete development work in many residential schemes including Jubilee Town and also failed to implement the Lahore Master Plan.

He alleged that by expanding the jurisdiction of LDA, the government was bent upon turning agricultural land of Lahore division into residential area and intended to import vegetables and fruits from neighbouring India. “Buildings this side, vegetables from other side,” he passed a sarcastic comment while opposing the amendment.   Aslam further alleged that six private companies including Alfa, Paragon, Millennium and Urban were already in the field busy purchasing land from farmers at throw away prices, only to be sold later to the government at high prices. These companies, he added, had been enlisted without pre-qualification.

During the eight hour long proceedings, quorum was pointed out thrice but it was completed by the treasury, thanks to constant presence of Secretary to the Chief Minister Dr Tauqir Shah at the exit point of the Assembly. No member could leave the Assembly premises without his permission. The members, in turn, took the opportunity to meet him and get their works done in the provincial departments.

Law Minister defended the new changes in LDA Act. He said that from now onwards, 20 per cent land of the housing societies would remain mortgaged with LDA till completion of the development work.

The minister dispelled the impression that entire Lahore division would be turned into a residential area through LDA. In the Master Plan, he added, residential, commercial and agricultural areas in the Lahore division would be specified. He said that a commission would be set up to settle disputes

Headed by the Chief Minister, the LDA would consist of at least two members from the Punjab Assembly, mayor of the corporation concerned, Chairman P& D and administrative secretaries of finance and housing departments.

In the statement of objects and reason, it has been explained that LDA Act has been amended to ensure optimum utilisation of resources, economical and effective utilisation of land and to evolve policies and programmes relating to the improvement of the environment of housing, industrial, development, traffic, transportation, health education water supply, sewerage, drainage and solid waste disposal and other allied matters.  The Assembly also adopted the Punjab Transparency and Right to Information Bill, 2013. In the statement of objects and reason, it has been stated that government intended to provide transparency and freedom of information to ensure that all citizens of the province should have access to information in all matters of public importance and the government be made more accountable to its citizens in order to enforce their fundamental rights. The treasury overruled all the amendment motions moved by the Opposition.

The Assembly also passed three other amendment bills which included: The Punjab Weights and Measures International System Enforcement Bill, The Punjab Workmen’s Compensation Bill and The Punjab Cost of Living (Relief) Bill.