Public money: Hundred acres bought for agro research project wasting away

June 13, 2014

By Kamran Khan

PESHAWAR-Tribune: Vast swathes of land bought for cultivation of vegetables and fruits under a research project worth millions of rupees are reportedly lying barren, causing a huge loss to the national exchequer.

An official of the provincial agriculture department said the land was bought near the Charsadda interchange on the Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway for setting up a farm under the agriculture research centre project on the directions of former agriculture secretary.

The official said the cost of the 100 acre land on the motorway was estimated at Rs20 million and was approved by the former Awami National Party (ANP) led government. He, however, claimed the land was unfit for cultivation.

The official revealed that the land was handed over from the agriculture extension department to the research facility, alleging then agriculture secretary Afsar Khan bought the land from one of his relatives.

He said the secretary planned to establish a research farm in Mandani while the centre’s offices would be set up on the new land. “The two areas are far apart, however, the secretary stuck to his plan, ignoring stiff criticism over the move by department officials at the time,” he added.

A former farm manager, requesting anonymity, said despite the fact that the land was ploughed a number of times, it cannot be brought into any kind of agricultural use. He said an four-member committee was also formed for supervising the sale of land by the then government, however, the purpose for which it was constituted could not materialise.

“The agriculture department should have developed land in Mandani circle for cultivation of vegetables and setting up orchards as that would have been the feasible and less-costly option, rather than wasting a huge amount of money,” he said, adding no vegetation or orchards have been set up on the land near the Charsadda interchange so far.

He explained that the location of the land was flood-prone and termed the site an investment risk, adding no irrigation channels have been made to provide water to the vast piece of land.

Afsar Khan, who is now the commissioner of Malakand division, said the land, purchased for a research institute at the cost of Rs30 million, was identified after they had exhausted options in Buner, Swat, Dir and other parts of the province. “We were unable to find suitable land even in Charsadda and thus purchased the [said] land,” he said, adding former provincial minister of Pakistan Peoples Party, Zahir Shah, told him to purchase the land for the said amount and not miss the allocation.

He further said the land was bought for launching a hydro-agriculture project but lamented that the agriculture research department could not bring the land into its intended use. “The land was cheap at the time and we could manage it with an aim to make it an exhibition point for farmers to easily get seeds,” he said. He explained that necessary funds for the project could not be ensured in time for launching the scheme.

The former agriculture secretary rejected allegations that the land was bought from his relative, adding a land purchasing committee supervised the entire process.

He said funds for the boundary wall, tube well and other activities were earmarked in the last fiscal year’s budget for initiating tunnel farming and it is up to the department to benefit from the land. “It is the agriculture department’s inefficiency which has resulted in the non-utilisation of the land,” he added.

Minister for Agriculture Sardar Ikramullah Gandapur said the current agriculture secretary would be in a better position to comment on the issue, but the official could not be reached despite several attempts.

Meanwhile, Agriculture Department’s DG Research Dr Abdul Lateef said the land under question is roughly spread over seven and a half acres.

“We are committed to making it an exhibition point in the upcoming schemes,” he said.

Refuting allegations of mismanagement, he said this year they cultivated wheat on the land and are making full use of it. When asked about the amount of wheat harvested on the land, he was unable to give a figure.

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