ISLAMABAD: The expansion of the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Lahore, came under the microscope on Wednesday when the Supreme Court decided to examine how a commercial enterprise could be vested with excessive powers to extend its peripheries, of its own accord.
“It does not augur well for the good name of honourable members of an institution who have shed their blood to secure the country’s borders,” regretted Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja.
“A few individuals are exploiting the situation in utter disregard of the Constitution, law and morality by [using] the name of martyrs, widows and orphans,” Justice Dost Muhammad Khan lamented.
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The case at hand involves the possession of 156 kanals of land, which DHA Lahore has dubbed ‘Phase 7’, despite the fact that the individual from whom it purportedly purchased the land for Rs920 million did not own it. In fact, the court was told that the title belonged to one Nusrat Jehan Khatoon.
In addition, the ownership of this piece of land was already under dispute and a civil court had issued a status quo on April 2, 2004. But DHA, Lahore, not only acquired the land in 2006, even though the title was not in its name, but also issued notifications under relevant laws, announcing that the land had been acquired by the authority.
Senior counsel Shahid Hamid, representing Eden Gardens, Lahore, revealed that the Lahore Cantonment Cooperative Housing Society had transformed itself into DHA, Lahore, in 1999 after the promulgation of the DHA Ordinance by the Punjab government in 1999.
Thereafter, in 2002, then chief executive Gen Pervez Musharraf issued Chief Executive Order No 26. Soon after the promulgation of the law, DHA initiated similar housing projects in different cities such as Bahawalpur, Multan and Gujranwala.
These provincial laws, the counsel argued, were in direct conflict with similar laws at the federal level, especially when the Lahore corps commander or general officer commanding were appointed as heads of the provincial commercial entity in question.
The counsel also submitted newspaper advertisements showing that DHA even allotted plots among buyers without disclosing that the title of the land had not been transferred in its name.
The Punjab prosecutor general informed the court that a criminal investigation in this regard had been initiated by the Federal Investigation Agency this year. Investigation Officer Mumtaz Hussain had even sent a 10-part questionnaire to DHA, but the authority refused to reply, claiming immunity as a military establishment.
On the face of it, both legal instruments suffered from serious legal and constitutional issues as to the vires of these laws, the court noted. A number of questions arose, including the vesting of excessive powers to expand in a body that appeared to be a commercial enterprise.
The court recalled that the Punjab government had also opposed DHA’s expansionist designs when a summary to this effect was sent to the Punjab chief minister on Feb 4, 2011. Consequently, Punjab Advocate General Navid Rasul Mirza was asked to state the province’s position, for which the counsel said he needed time.
DHA Lahore’s counsel Asim Hafeez explained that the areas in question could not be declared as DHA-developed land since it had not yet been acquired or leased by the authority.
The court, however, ordered the authority to take out advertisements in leading newspapers, explaining to intending buyers that the land in question had not been acquired by the authority and they should purchase the land at their own risk.
The court also took exception to DHA’s claims of immunity from an audit of their accounts under Article 170 of the Constitution, as a result of which, their accounts had never been audited.
The court observed that after the 18th Amendment it had now become the responsibility of the auditor general of Pakistan to audit the accounts of all institutions.
Published in Dawn, September 3rd, 2015