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‘Waltongate’: Investigation sought into sale of airport land in Lahore

LAHORE: The Aircraft Owners & Operators Association Pakistan (AOOAP) has called for a probe into the sale of Walton Airport land, claiming that the authorities concerned have flouted rules and regulations in doing so.

“Selling of the land of Walton Airport, Lahore is a perfect case of violation of rules, regulations and proceeds done through deception,” said the association in a letter addressed to the ministry of aviation and defence recently.

On the other hand, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and Punjab Central Business District Development Authority (PCBDDA) have rejected the association’s claim, terming it false and baseless.

According to the authority, it was a government-to-government transaction undertaken by the federal and provincial cabinets in 2021.

For the last few days, apparently since the letter came to the fore, social media is abuzz with the denunciation of the transaction of airport land.

Airport operators body laments asset worth Rs350bn sold for Rs50bn only; CAA rejects claim as baseless

AOOAP General Secretary Muhammad Nawaz Asim, a former captain wing commander, wrote in the latter that the land in question is evaluated to be worth Rs350 billion or more, which has been sold in violation of rules and regulations.

“The worst thing is that out of Rs50 billion (the sold amount), only Rs1 billion has been received into the accounts of CAA. Where is rest of the money gone? Who is the beneficiary and who has been used as rubber stamp to facilitate such corruption?” the letter reads.

It alleges that prima facie the national asset has been destroyed by the land mafias in collusion with the CAA’s director general and other government officials.

“The Waltongate scandal is a symbol of mala fides on part of the CAA officials and that is how aviation industry is being ruined as the Walton Airport was a hub of general aviation in Pakistan which requires judicial intervention and NAB investigation,” it says.

The CAA Officers Association has endorsed the AOOAP’s assertions, demanding the government to launch a thorough probe into the allegations.

A ‘fake story’

Meanwhile, the CAA has rejected the allegations, saying the AOOAP’s letter has concocted a fake and baseless story and that it is a desperate attempt to defame the CAA leadership. The letter aims to undermine the mega central business district project initiated by the Punjab government in Lahore, it added.

“To lend context, there were serious safety concerns regarding continuation of flight operations from Walton Airport. As a result, it was already proposed to the federal government to relocate the training and other operations to a more appropriate location. The decision to move was prompted by the escalating risks posed by aviation activities to the large commercial and residential areas near Walton aerodrome,” the CAA explains.

It recalls that in 2020-21, the then Punjab government had approached the federal government to acquire the land of Walton aerodrome to establish the Lahore central business district.

According to CAA, it was a government-to-government transaction undertaken by both the federal and provincial cabinets in 2021.

The federal government directed the CAA to transfer the land to the PCBDDA. Both the federal and provincial governments approved the project wherein 52 per cent ownership is with the CAA and 48pc with the Punjab government. Besides, the CAA has purchased a piece of land measuring 450 acres in Muridke (Sheikhupura) from the Punjab government to establish a new airport which is near completion.

The PCBDDA has also termed the AOOAP’s letter baseless and misleading and an attempt to “sabotage the repute of CAA for personal gains”.

The PCBDDA states that Pakistan grapples with the repercussions of unplanned city expansion, leading to associated socio-economic challenges. The government’s decision in 2021 marked a pivotal moment as it embarked on integrating high-rise buildings and vertical infrastructure into urban development plans.

It clarifies that Walton Airport’s decommissioning stemmed from its impractical location within densely populated urban areas, posing significant safety risks and hindering sustainable development.

“Consequently, the land was transferred to PCBDDA in a transparent government-to-government (G2G) deal, ensuring accountability and adherence to legal frameworks. The land was transferred through a triparty agreement between CAA, Government of Punjab and PCBDDA on profit sharing model with a three-year grace period.

“Notably, the authority has successfully auctioned 12 mixed-use commercial plots, securing a staggering investment of Rs61 billion,” it said.

Source: DAWN