29 August, 2014 / Ziqa'ad 2, 1435

ISLAMABAD, Dec 15: Despite disposal of about 400 cases related to allotment of government residences, over 800 such cases are still pending in the sessions courts of Islamabad.

This is because the number of people filing appeals to hang on to government houses or contest someone else’s possession is growing.

According to a court official, in 2011 as many as 1,240 cases related to allotment of official residences were pending. This number dropped in 2012 thanks to the threefold increase in the strength of sessions court judges from 14 to 50. Out of the judges, 19 presided over the allotment-related cases.

However, there are still a large number of cases in which the parties have gotten stay order to prolong their occupation of houses they are not entitled to.

It may be noted that Islamabad is very expensive in terms of real estate. And though this is partly because of a general accommodation shortage, the number of housing units is too low compared to the number of government employees.

According to the estate office figures, there are 24,300 houses in the pool that are all occupied. On the other hand, over one hundred thousand aspirants are on the waiting list. An official in the estate office told Dawn that after 1995 not a single housing unit had been added in to the pool. This is the reason government officials in Islamabad are facing shortage of houses.

Take the example of Iqbal Hussain who retired from government service as additional secretary (finance) in April 2011. He was legally bound to vacate the house by November 2011 but his wife, a lawyer by profession, went into litigation.

They filed a petition with Islamabad High Court (IHC) in November 2011 but the court dismissed it. The next forum should have been the Supreme Court but interestingly she moved the civil court and obtained a stay order.

After a legal battle, the court, however, vacated the stay and dismissed her petition. She then filed another petition with an additional sessions judge which is still pending adjudication.

According to Nazir Jawad, a former legal adviser to the ministry of housing, litigation over the official allotment of houses sharply increased in 2004 when the then minister for housing Iqbal Ahmed Khan introduced a new allotment policy.

According to Mr Jawad, “Earlier the allotment was done according to a general waiting list which was subject to empty houses.

But the policy introduced by Mr Khan allowed the estate office to start allocating houses which were going to be vacated in the next four to five years.”

This policy was followed by the minister’s successor Rehmatullah Khan Kakar, he added.

Mr Jawad claimed that the new policy allowed the allotment of hundreds of houses which were likely to be vacant in the future.

And most of them obtained protective stay orders from different courts to restrain the estate office from further allotting the house to anyone else.

This, he added, led to the extraordinary burden on the sessions court.

The situation aggravated further when enterprising officials managed allotments thanks to their influence and not merit, and those who suffered from these decisions went to the court.

For instance, Amna Yousuf, a joint secretary of the housing ministry, waited for four years to get the house she was allotted.

The house was occupied by a government officer who was completing his last years of service. She was shocked to hear that an additional director of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) had been allotted and given the possession of the house.

She challenged the cancellation of her house in the court. However, she was lucky enough to get an alternative accommodation. Such issues have also landed in the Supreme Court.

In 2011, Afsar Khan filed a petition with the IHC because a house allotted to him in 2009 was given to the son of a senior official of the Federal Board of Revenue (FBR).

Mr Khan never got physical possession of the house as the senior FBR official and then his son lived there.

After the IHC dismissed his petition, Mr Khan approached the Supreme Court. The apex court directed the housing ministry to make the decision according to the general waiting list which was used before 2004.

Though Mr Khan could not get a decision in his favour, the Supreme Court in his case set a guideline for estate office regarding future allotments.

Advocate Babar Saeed Butt told Dawn that besides other factors, the inability of the estate office to handle the allotments had resulted in the increased litigation.

He was of the opinion that the estate office should strengthen its ‘litigation department’ if it wanted to resolve the court cases.—Malik Asad

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