Islamabad -  The Senate Standing Committee on Pakistan Railways on Thursday raised questions over the leasing out of the railway land to the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) in Bahawalpur.

The committee headed by Senator Fateh Muhammad Hassani took strong exception to the issue questioning who authorized the deputy commissioner to lease out the railway land to the housing authority.

The committee was informed that the leasing out of 34 acres of railway land to the DHA Bahawalpur will cause billion of rupees loss to the railway as it will require diversion of a 140-kilometre railway track.

The Senate committee asked the Chief Secretary Punjab and railway and defence ministry officials to brief the panel on the leasing out the issue at the next meeting.

The committee was informed that a summary regarding the leasing out of the railway land, dispatched to Punjab chief minister, has been taken back.

Senator Hassani said that the deputy commissioner Bahawalpur has illegally leased out the railway land to the DHA. “Who has given the deputy commissioner the authority to lease the railway land illegally?” he questioned.

Railway Minister Khawaja Saad Rafiq said that the case regarding the lease was pending in a civil court and they will also consult the higher judiciary in this regard. The minister said that they will have to divert 140-kilometre railway track due to the lease of 34-acre to the DHA.

Senator Taj Haider said that a prized railway land located on II Chandigarh Road in Karachi has also been handed over to Etisalat.

The committee chairman recommended that the railway should be operated on a commercial basis and salaries of the employees should be increased. The federal minister said that Rs70,000 per month salary of train drivers was fewer and they were increasing the remuneration to Rs100,000 per month.

The committee was further informed that a modern solar single system would be installed on railway tracks to alert drivers about an activity at a distance as long as three-kilometre.

The committee was also informed that earlier there was a hold of mafia on scrap purchase and they used to pay a nominal price, but under the new policy, tender for each division was being issued separately. The new bidding process for scrap was open to all and even small contractors were participating in the bidding.

During the current year, the Pakistan Railways earned Rs413 million by selling the scrap, the committee was informed. The Pakistan Railways paid Rs80 million in tax to the Federal Board of Revenue, an official said.

Rafiq said that the PR earned Rs36 billion last year and a target of Rs40 billion has been set for the current year. “The railway is saving more money from freight service and it earned Rs1.8 billion by providing services to the armed forces,” he said. 

The committee was informed that Punjab and Sindh governments have released Rs610 million and Rs80 million respectively for new railway gates respectively but Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and  Balochistan governments have not responded as yet.

The committee was also informed that 20 percent relief has been given to around 0.5 million passengers on fares on account of Eid.

The meeting was also attended by Senators Sameena Abid, Hafiz Hamidullah, Zahida Khan and officials of the railway ministry.