Islamabad - The Senate Standing Committee on Railways, on Tuesday, expressed annoyance over the non-payment of $800 million by Etisalat, and gave a three-month ultimatum to the Ministry of Finance for resolution of the issue.

Federal Minister of Railways Khawaja Saad Rafiq also warned that if payment was not made, the railways would disconnect all the PTCL lines passing through the railway land and installations.

The meeting, presided over by the committee chairman Sardar Fateh Muhammad Muhammad Hassani, warned the ministry of strict action if it didn’t resolve the issue.

The committee was also briefed on the railways’ land in Chaman, given by Pakistan Telecommunications Company Ltd, to Etsilat. It observed that the Ministry of Finance should honour its word, as it had given a guarantee in that regard.

The committee chairman termed the agreement as flawed, and added that privatisation was not carried out properly.

“The land is precious as its price now runs into billions of rupees,” he added.

“The silence of the Finance Minister over the non-payment by Etisalat is beyond comprehension,” the chairman said, and added, “We want to know the reason why Etisalat didn’t pay the amount.”

Muhammad Hassani said the country was plundered by a flawed deal, but no action was taken by the accountability institutions. “Where are the accountability institutions?” he questioned.

Khawaja Saad Rafiq informed the committee that unilateral orders were responsible for handing over the railways land to Etisalat. He said that PTCL was privatised, but Pakistan Railways was suffering.

“Around Rs 13 billion of railways are stuck with the company due to the PTCL and Etisalat controversy,” he said, adding, “We should not be forced to take tougher action.”

Saad informed the committee that Punjab had provided Rs 610 million to the ministry, while the other three provinces had not given funds for the up-gradation of the crossings.

He said, “However, despite financial problems, the ministry is taking measures and has upgraded 64 crossings so far.”

Chairman of the committee said that if the provinces were not paying the amount, then the railway crossings there should be shut as in case of accidents, the ministry was held responsible.

The committee asked the provinces to provide funds to the Ministry of Railways for upgrading railway crossings.

The committee was briefed about the illegally constructed Shalimar Hospital on Railways’ land in Lahore. The committee also underlined the need for early decisions on cases regarding the Royal Palm, which have been pending in courts.

About the ML-11, the committee was told that foreign investors were also attracted and the track would be made on Build Own Transfer (BOT) basis.

The committee chairman was of the view with RCD train track, economic activities in the area would gain boost.

The committee was told huge quantity of scrap had accumulated, but its price had gone down in the market and the tenders were cancelled following imposition of 17 per cent general withholding tax.

The Minister for Railways said that the present government had appointed a former judge as Director General Legal of Lahore and started recruitment in the department.

Secretary Finance Waqar Masood told the committee that the ministry stood by its agreement with regard to PTCL and Etsilat. “It has taken concrete measures and is near to resolve the outstanding issues,” he added.

The chairman opined that the PTCL’s privatisation was wrongly done, as it was a profit earning organisation. “Telephone exchanges in rural areas are being shut down,” he added.

He observed that Etsilat would not pay $800 million to the PTCL, which it was bound under the agreement.

Senator Samina Abid said according to media reports, millions of rupees of interest had been accrued on the outstanding amount.

However, the secretary finance strongly rejected such reports.

Senator Azam Khan Musakhel said dry ports should be constructed in Chaman and Taftan, in addition to laying a railway track from Musakhel to Taunsa Sharif via Qila Saifullah and Loralai.

The committee directed the Federal Bureau of Revenue to furnish a letter to the Quetta Chamber of Commerce that the track would also generate income for the area.

Saad said his ministry would discuss with legal experts about land and present a report to the committee within 30 days.

He added separate meetings would be held with the provinces to resolve the issues pertaining to the Railways.

The committee was briefed about the Saindak project and illegal recruitment in railways in a camera session.

Besides members of the committee and minister for railways, the meeting was also attended by officials of other relevant departments.