ISLAMABAD - About 1,400 acres of precious agricultural land being used for agricultural development and research are in danger of falling to the hands of land mafia allegedly led by a sitting MNA of the ruling party.

Political bigwigs are pushing the proposal of allocating the land of National Agricultural Research Centre (NARC), Islamabad, to a housing colony, alleged scientists.

The scientists and employees of NARC opened up at a press briefing held at Pakistan Academy of Sciences (PAS) Thursday in protest against Capital Development Authority’s (CDA) proposal submitted to the prime minister for conversion of the NARC land into residential and commercial sector for generation of revenue.

Nadeem Iqbal, an environmentalist and former advisor to the chairman of Pakistan Agricultural Research Centre — parent organisation of NARC - alleged,

“MNA Tariq Fazal Chaudhry is behind this developing scam just for personal gains.” The price of about 100 acres of land of the MNA adjacent to NARC land will also multiply if the price of land shoots up by this housing scheme, he explained. “That’s the real reason behind this project. He wants to make a killing from real estate,” he maintained.

He informed that thousands of children are benefited from the kitchen gardening of NARC, besides other projects. “We will not allow to bulldoze the labs and research work done over the years and will stand in the way of the bulldozers of the CDA if they come to NARC,” he vowed.

Rejecting the proposal of allocating alternate piece of land to NARC and shifting of its infrastructure, he said, “It is the height of ignorance that the policymakers do not understand that the research laboratories, plant buildings, glass houses, green houses, fish ponds and germplasm etc are not transferable.”

According to the master plan of CDA, Zone-IV was for agricultural purposes but housing societies were established and farmhouses were allotted to politicians but the lease of NARC that expired in 2005 was not renewed by CDA despite receiving many letters from NARC, regretted Mohammad Altaf, President of PARC scientists association.

Terming the importance of food security more than atomic bomb, he said land mafia ruined the agricultural lands of this country. Sharing development in agriculture in past 60 years through the research and technology development of NARC that has enabled the country to increase the production, Altaf said wheat and rice production rose by 7 times; pulses, 50%; oil seed, 6 times; fruits, 15 times, vegetables, 14 times; per capita food availability, from 143-kg in 1975-76 to 155-kg in 2008-09; and honey production increased from 4-kg to 28-kg/colony per annum.

He said the National Reference Lab of Poultry Diseases of NARC had saved Rs 90 billion (Rs 10 billion / year) to poultry industry since 2006, by making Pakistan the only bird flu-free country among SARC countries.

Agriculture is the largest and only sector of the economy that gives hope to get Pakistan out of this economic mess, remarked Dr Ameer Mohammad Khan, founding chairman of PARC and rector of FAST.

But research is fundamental to development of agriculture so it’s crucial that the activities of NARC are not disturbed, he added.

In the heart of New Delhi, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has been established on 500 hectares of land but no one ever thought to shift the body somewhere else or build a housing colony on the land, he pointed out. “By turning such a useful research institute into a housing colony, Pakistan will be committing economic suicide, besides become a laughing stock for the world” he opined.