ISLAMABAD, Feb 13: Despite a Supreme Court ruling against private or commercial construction on public property, the District Bar Association obtained permission from a district court to build lawyers’ chambers on a football ground in F-8.
On Wednesday, a dispute between the lawyers and traders from F-8 Markaz turned into a brawl in which over 20 people were injured. Police are considering a request from the CDA to seal the ground.
According to an eyewitness, Muhammad Usman, as many as 50 lawyers arrived at the football ground on Wednesday morning to begin building their chambers. They claimed that the government had granted them permission.
When a CDA enforcement team arrived and asked them to stop, Muhammad Usman said, “the lawyers used harsh words with them, and the CDA team left.”
Syed Anwar, a leader of the lawyers’ group, told Dawn that “the CDA had had no objection” to the construction of chambers, which were being built on a temporary basis. “As soon as the court shifts to G-10, we will vacate the premises,” he said.
The District Bar Association had filed a petition in district court on February 9, claiming that the plot in F-8 - CDA property used as a football ground - was vacant, used only for trash-dumping, and could hold 100 lawyers’ chambers.
Claiming that a previous construction attempt had been stopped by “unknown persons”, they requested an interim order from the court allowing them to continue construction. On February 11, Civil Judge Muhammad Naveed Khan, a former lawyer, issued the order, despite the fact that the Supreme Court, while hearing a suo motu case regarding the construction of a restaurant in F-9 Park, made it clear that public property cannot be used for commercial or private purposes.
Eventually, Muhammad Usman told Dawn, around a dozen traders from F-8 Markaz reached the lot. They claimed that if the chambers were built, their commerce would be affected, as customers, especially women, would be less likely to visit the market. After an argument, “the lawyers started beating the traders”.
Another eyewitness, Muneer Ahmad, claimed that there were eventually one hundred lawyers and one hundred traders gathered at the ground.
“The two groups fought with one another and exchanged aerial fire. The traders were more organised, so the lawyers fled.”
Syed Anwar claimed that the district management had been remiss in not restraining the traders, who “were very violent, injuring several lawyers”. The DBA plans to protest against both the traders and the CDA.
A representative of the traders’ group, Qamar Abbasi, countered that it was in fact the lawyers who attacked the traders, including with gunfire.
“Over the past several years, traders and lawyers have made several agreements,” he said, “and the district administration is supposed to serve as the guarantor”.
Believing that the lawyers had broken an agreement regarding the lot, the traders attempted to stop them, at which point “the lawyers opened fire”.
Abbasi claimed that the lawyers had “hijacked” the local police station to register an FIR against the traders, who, in response, have announced a shutter-down strike.
“We plan to march to the Supreme Court to protest, since the lawyers have been using the name of the Chief Justice to press their cause,” Mr Abbasi said.
In their petition, the DBA claimed that they had played an important part in ensuring the independence of the judiciary, and that CJ Iftikhar Chaudhry had declared the DBA “the bar of the Supreme Court”.
A CDA spokesman, Ramzan Sajid, clarified that CDA land cannot be used, for any purpose, without permission from the organisation. He claimed that encroachments had already decreased the value of CDA land, and that they plan to discuss the issue of the F-8 lot with both the lawyers and the traders.
According to the station house officer at Margalla police station, however, the district management has asked that the ground be sealed, due to the threat of violence.