ISLAMABAD: Former chief justice Iftikhar Chaudhry had sought allocation of a pricey residential plot in Islamabad days before his retirement, reversing a decision made to much acclaim in 2009.
A now-lapsed prime ministerial scheme had given approval for allotment of plots to bureaucrats and members of the superior judiciary. Dr Faqir Hussain, Registrar of the Supreme Court, wrote a letter to the Director General of Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation, on Nov 28 seeking allotment of a plot to the then chief justice. In the letter, the registrar said: “As per rules, Mr Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Honourable Chief Justice of Pakistan, is entitled to a residential plot. Therefore, you are requested to finalise the process of allotment under the prime minister’s package at the earliest.”
The SC registrar wanted allotment of plot No 45-D in Sector I-8/2, measuring 600 square yards. Justice Chaudhry had turned down the allotment of the same plot to him in 2009. However, sources at the housing ministry told Dawn that the plot had already been allotted to another applicant.
However, it added, if the government accepted the application of Justice Chaudhry, another plot could be allotted in D-12/2. In fact, the ministry official said, plot No 114-A, Street No 7 in D-12/2, had been marked for the former chief justice by the government.
An official of the Supreme Court’s secretariat confirmed forwarding of the application to the housing ministry. But when a query was put to the SC registrar’s office, it replied in writing: “Former Chief Justice of Pakistan may be contacted for the purpose, if one so desires.”
In July 2009, the SC’s deputy registrar forwarded a list of judges, including the name of Justice Chaudhry, for the allotment of residential plots in Islamabad under the prime minister’s package. In 2006 former prime minister Shaukat Aziz had approved the special “assistance package for BPS-22 officers” under which civil servants, including judges of the apex court, were given one kanal residential plot in Islamabad.
In Aug 2009, a number of judges, along with Justice (retired) Chaudhry, were issued allotment letters. But in a surprising move, the foundation received another letter from the same deputy registrar in which it was told that the chief justice had refused to accept the offer letter.
“Since the chief justice had never asked for it, therefore, the said offer may be withdrawn immediately,” the deputy registrar wrote in his letter to the Housing Foundation’s secretary.
Complying with the request, the secretary withdrew the offer.
Justice Chaudhry probably didn’t think it appropriate to get a plot from the PPP-led government as it had initially opposed his restoration, commented a lawyer.
Rejection of the plot, which had a market value of Rs30 million at that time, was hailed in the media. Some termed the decision an end to “politics of plots” and even berated PCO judges, including former chief justice (retd) Abdul Hameed Dogar, Justice (retd) Nawaz Abbasi, Justice (retd) Faqir Muhammad Khokhar, Justice (retd) Javed Buttar and Justice (retd) Saeed Ashad for accepting plots.
However, such was the lure of residential plots carrying fabulous price tags that even non-PCO judges, including the sitting Chief Justice, Justice Tassaduq Hussain Gilani, and a close friend of the former CJ, Khalil-ur-Rehman Ramday, did not follow Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s example and benefited from the generous scheme introduced by Shaukat Aziz, now in self-exile.
The request by Justice Chaudhry has put the present government in a bind since Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had announced rescinding of his predecessor’s special package in July. The SC registrar had cited the prime minister’s package for the allotment.
According to the media wing of the prime minister’s office, Nawaz Sharif has ordered discontinuation of allotment of plots to BPS-22 officers and judges.
The prime minister, according to an official privy to the development, had been given a special presentation on the allotment of plot to Justice (retired) Chaudhry. He was told that the former chief justice had a right to claim a plot since the allotment was due in Aug 2009. But a note of caution was added: more than 200 civil servants could apply for the favour if the government accepted the former CJ’s request.
In order to silence critics, the government was advised, it could re-issue the previous allotment letter that the former CJ had turned down in 2009.
According to sources at the housing ministry, a decision on Justice Chaudhry’s application would be made only after the posting of a new secretary.
In the absence of a secretary and an additional secretary, a joint secretary is running the ministry’s day-to-day affairs. “Only a federal secretary can issue the allotment letter,” an official said.