Nine-storey project becomes bone of contention

HYDERABAD, July 31: A nine-storey commercial-cum-residential project seems to have become a bone of contention between the Hyderabad Cantonment Board (CBH) and an intelligence agency.

The latter has expressed its disapproval of the plaza on account of security concerns as it is to be built near the Hyderabad garrison.

Investigation and background interviews with officials concerned revealed that the CBH had approved it on the ground that the building plan conformed to the law.

The site is located on Alamgir Road, near Pakistan Chowk, which is just a few metres away from the garrison. The project is owned by Aziz Memon, a builder based in Sukkur.

The plot on which the plaza will be constructed was a residential plot, but its land use conversion was allowed by the Military Estate Officer (MEO) before the builder submitted its plan for approval to the CBH administration. Brig Javed, who was station commander at the time, was not keen on approving the project for multiple reasons. The brigadier lost his life in the Bhoja Air crash in April this year.

In absence of a clear policy on security matters, the CBH has been generous in granting approval for high-rise buildings that overlook the garrison at different locations.

However, at that time no one objected to these buildings because there was no security threat to military installations, but when suicide and terror strikes intensified against armed forces, it became noticeable.

But these very high-rise buildings still remain unregistered and one official of CBH faced criminal proceedings and served jail term in connection with these projects.

By virtue of the post, the station commander is the CBH president. Brig Jawed had suggested a number of additions and alterations to the builder.

“He had told the builder that unless he amends the plan, for instance keeping an 18 feet setback, the project can’t be considered for approval,” said a board source. It was only then that this 18 feet setback had been given within plot’s area, he added.

In the meantime, according to a security official, a policy was framed by the GHQ that in view of security concerns and terror strikes, approval of high-rise buildings near garrisons would be subject to a no objection certificate by the Military Intelligence (MI) directorate.

“When the late Brig Javed came to know about this policy framed last year in June, he sent back the case to the cantonment headquarters in Rawalpindi for vetting and then the case reached the local formation of the agency for verification,” the official added.

The source said that officials of the intelligence agency examined the location before submitting a report to their headquarters.

“Finally, a July 2, 2012, letter was issued under which the CBH authorities were requested to decline to approve the project because it is not
supported by security reasons. They were told to ask the builder to make a fresh request for project after re-modifying and redesigning it, which means he will have to cut the number of storeys,” said the official.

Officials of the CBH visited the project site to have a clear picture whether it would give a bird’s eye view of the garrison from its rooftop. The CBH authorities defended the project’s design in different meetings.

They argued that since there were already two seven-storey buildings near the site, of the proposed project, there was no harm if one more was built. They even took photographs to show the distance between the garrison and the two seven-storey plazas _ Alpine and Al Amna.According to the CBH’s Cantonment Executive Officer (CEO) Qazi Rizwan, the project was approved by late Brig Javed.

“Since no illegality in project’s land conversion from residential to commercial is allowed by MEO and no violation of bye-laws are involved that’s why the board approved it”.

“We didn’t get any letter from MI directorate but Quarter Master General (QMG) has written a letter to us that no NOC is needed from the MI,” he said.

He admitted that a policy had been framed at GHQ level in the wake of security scare but said no project had been assessed on the basis of this policy so far.

“Therefore, the QMG issued instructions, perhaps on July 12, under which no NOC from the MI is mandatory and these issues are to be decided by the military authorities,” he said.

He didn’t show this July 12 letter. He parried a question whether the project poses a security threat to the garrison.

However, another CBH official wondered that if there were no reservations over the project, why the board had told the builder not to start construction till permission was issued from the “competent authority”.

“It is the QMG’s view that MI’s NOC is not mandatory because it is concerned with board’s affairs and MI’s job is entirely different. Since commercial activity has started, the MI officials have sent their report to their directorate that despite intimation through July 2’s correspondence, construction and commercial activity continues on plot in violation of that policy,” said the source.

Aziz Memon said that he would begin construction after Eidul Fitr because “everything has been cleared”.

“The Cantonment Board has withdrawn the letter restraining me from going ahead with the project,” Mr Memon claimed.