Although repeatedly declared “illegal” by the local municipal administration over the years, dozens of housing societies in this popular hill resort continue doing business with impunity.
In its last such declaration, made in February this year, the Town Municipal Administration (TMA) of Murree listed 34 societies, warning the public not to invest in them. It also advised buyers of apartments, flats, hotels or other buildings in and around Murree to check its legal status before signing the deal.
Earlier, the TMA had advertised same public warning in 2013, 2014 and 2015 that the listed housing societies were formed by unscrupulous people without getting proper “no objection certificates” and meeting other legal requirements to defraud innocent people.
But development of such societies and their business continued unchecked by the authorities concerned.
One of these societies, the Oil and Gas Development Corporation (OGDC) Housing Society at Karlote was allegedly developed on the encroached land of forest department. “It was declared fake and illegal on the request of the department,” the then Divisional Forest Officer Javed Gill told Dawn.
Other societies named “illegal” by the TMA included Sanam Garden at Chattar; Common Developers and Royal Town at Manga; Judicial Town at Barroha, Karlot (Chattar); Sun City. Salgran; Murree Hill Cooperation, Wapda Housing at Angoori Road, Asia Housing Society, Ahbaab Housing Society, Mohrra Eswal; Utility Housing Society at Manga, Pakistan Council of Architects Housing Society, Manga, Islamabad Gardens Angoori Road Kuthar, Green Valley Farm Housing Project Samli Tajal.
Land mafias allegedly launched them after purchasing land at a very cheap rate from local people after Islamabad-Murree-Dual Carriageway (Expressway) project was announced back in 1999. The locals were too simple to realise that the project had raised the worth of their land many a time.
They could not visualize the importance the expressway would play in the economy of the area. They fell for ready cash the mafias offered for their small parcels of land.
Some money bags purchased Haqooqs (claim to land of the owner) and on its strength encroached thousands of kanals of forest land in connivance with the corrupt in the forest and revenue departments.
It is said the 1100 kanals the “illegal” OGDC Town occupies belonged to the forest department , which its developer allegedly acquired with the help from the then Divisional Forest Officer Murree Malik Ameer Hussain. Cases were registered against the developer and dealer Faizan Azam and Ameer Hussain in courts and National Accountability Bureau (NAB).
These unauthorized societies did not fulfill the criterion to obtain NOC. In its advertised public warnings, the TMA promised to take action against them but no concrete action ever followed.
People in the know of things also detected that a big housing society owned by a “big fish”, does not appear in the TMA’s list of illegal societies despite complaints by the forest department that it had encroached forested area.
When asked for his comments, the Town Municipal Officer (TMO) Murree Mr. Inamur Raheem said that except three all housing societies launched in Murree were illegal. He identified the legal ones as the Bahria Town, Commoners Housing Society and Phase I of the PWD Housing Society
He said: “The TMA has taken every possible action against the illegal housing societies.” Thirty-five FIRs had been registered against the illegal societies and their site offices and advertisement boards demolished, he said.
More than 20 societies are “totally illegal”, according to the municipal officer. They promote their business through advertisement campaigns not in Murree but in other cities - even in Afghanistan, the officer said quoting intelligence.
TMO Raheem said that apart from issuing warnings to the public every six months, his office also kept higher authorities “well informed on the mushroom growth of illegal housing societies”.
Even otherwise, the large scale cutting of hillsides by land developers is quite visible to anyone travelling on the Murree Expressway.
Many concerned locals, like former Union Council Chairman Hafeez Abbasi, Imran Abbasi, Javed Abbasi, Raja Fraz Abbasi, Ansar Abbasi, wryly noted that no action is seen to stop the ravage even though the expressway is frequented by top government leaders and officials, including Prime Minister Nawaz Shareef, the provincial chief minister and others.
They appealed to Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of the harm the unchecked illegality is causing to the lush green mountains of Murree Hills and to the defrauded public.
Published in Dawn, May 21st, 2017