The Platform


Some of the bureaucracy in Pakistan have been known to use infrastructure development as an opportunity for personal enrichment through land acquisitions at inflated prices. More recently, a senior government official in Rawalpindi, the fourth-largest city in Pakistan with a population of 2.2 million, used a ring road project as an opportunity for rent-seeking through land acquisition from private landowners at inflated rates.

Rawalpindi is situated in close proximity to Islamabad. In 2016, the government of Punjab approved a 65.3 km long ring road to ease the traffic congestion in the city as well as between Rawalpindi and Islamabad. The project envisioned 8 interchanges and 4 service stations. The project was to be executed through a public-private partnership. The project was approved by Punjab’s chief minister.

It was eventually discovered that a local government official expanded the scope of the project by adding another loop. This addition meant further land acquisitions from private landowners. However, the land was acquired at very exorbitant rates.

A preliminary inquiry conducted by the government indicated grave violations of procedures, misuse of government authority, and financial kickbacks. The government of Punjab suspended key officials and a formal inquiry was launched. The inquiry found that senior officials in collaboration with local real-estate agents changed the design of the project by adding additional design features. The land for the features was acquired at a cost of $38 million which was many times higher than the actual market value of the land, and the land value was paid for without adopting a legal procedure to ensure the irreversibility of the transactions.

The whole scheme of corruption even baffled the prime minister. What was particularly egregious, real estate agents purchased lands from small landholders and subsequently sold these plots at exorbitant rates. It has been recommended that any officials involved in corruption surrounding the ring road project be arrested for graft.

Land resources play a pivotal role in infrastructure development and poverty alleviation interventions such as land allocation to the landless poor for ensuring their food security through agriculture. However, corruption in land use can negatively affect the development as well as poverty alleviation programs of a country.

Muhammad Azam is a development practitioner in Pakistan. He is currently pursuing a Master's degree in Sustainable International Development from the Heller School for Social Policy and Management, Brandeis University. He is interested in land planning, digital geographies, and infrastructure-development.