ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Monday scrapped federal government housing ventures in sectors F-14 and F-15 of the capital, where members of the judiciary, powerful bureaucrats, influential lawyers and journalists were among the beneficiaries.

Deciding petitions filed against the acquisition of land for these sectors, the court asked the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to take over the under-developed housing schemes and judiciously dispense the plots after developing the two sectors.

In the landmark judgment, IHC Justice Athar Minallah noted that “beneficiaries (of both sectors) are serving or retired officers and employees of federal ministries, divisions, attached departments… judges of the superior courts, i.e. the honourable Supreme Court, all the high courts, Azad Jammu and Kashmir Supreme Court and the Chief Court and Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan, as well as the Federal Shariat Court”.

The verdict noted that “beneficiaries also include serving and retired employees of autonomous/semi-autonomous bodies, public sector corporations under the control of federal government, journalists, media workers, lawyers, employees of [the housing] foundation, the Ministry of Housing and Works… and constitutional bodies.”

Verdict assails PM’s unilateral approval for housing schemes in sectors F-14 and F-15 as ‘corrupt practice’

The verdict assails “the approval of the housing scheme proposed to establish sector F-14 and F-15 [which] was accorded by the prime minister of pakistan without placing the proposal before the federal cabinet”.

It notes that there is “no act of parliament empower[ing] the prime minister or any other member of the executive to sell, transfer, lease or in any other manner dispose of land or assets vested in the government otherwise than in a transparent manner”.

According to the verdict, such an act “attracts the offence of corruption and corrupt practices as defined in section 9 of the National Accountability Ordinance (NAO), 1999.”

Criticising the allotment of plots to the judges of the district courts of Islamabad, the judgment observed that these judges, who would “would ultimately hear and decide references of the affectees under section 18 of the Acquisition Act, have either already availed the benefit or have applied for [a] plot to the foundation, thus... having a personal financial interest in the cases before them.”

“The entire machinery involved in the acquisition of land through the police force, from the chief commissioner to the land acquisition collector, have a financial interest in the foundation i.e. to get a plot at a price lower than what it would fetch through a transparent sale.”

Journalists and media workers, who are supposed to hold state organs accountable by exposing their misdeeds to the people of Pakistan, have also been made stakeholders, Justice Minallah noted.

Similarly, he regretted that lawyers who should defend the affected persons and highlight grievances related to the violations of their fundamental rights, are also a part of this “state largess”.

The judge observed that “none of the members of these categories have a vested right to obtain land in a non-transparent manner. Such an extraordinary privilege is not part of the terms and condition of a federal government servant or any other employee who is a member of the [housing] foundation”.

The verdict declared that “the state has no commitment to give a plot in a non-transparent manner to the judges, journalists, lawyers or any other beneficiary of the [housing] foundation”.

According to the judgment: “there is no explanation why this largess is available to persons who are privileged and wield influence in society while the less privileged, down-trodden and shelter-less have no access to such lucrative financial benefit[s]. There is also no explanation why those who were evicted from [the katchi abadi in] sector I-11 and their mud houses bulldozed were not offered such profit-making largess by the state.”

The judgment noted that the Lahore High Court (LHC) Rawalpindi bench hearing a case related to the acquisition of land for sector G-13 had, on November 8, 1999, prescribed the criteria for allotment of plots to judges of the superior courts. The bench had given directions to include employees of autonomous and semi-autonomous organisations, the Election Commission of Pakistan, Supreme Court, Federal Shariat Court and LHC Rawalpindi bench, the National Assembly, senior members of the armed forces, journalists, doctors, engineers and lawyers.

He recalled that the same bench had also directed the housing foundation to allot plots to senior lawyers, namely Sharifuddin Pirzada and Aziz A. Munshi, as well as former Chief of Naval Staff retired Admiral Fasih Bokhari.

On the other hand, Justice Minallah’s judgment said it was “difficult to comprehend why shelter-less struggling young lawyers were ignored while two senior successful lawyers who indeed were not in need of financial assistance or shelter, were offered this grace or largess at the expense of land which vested in the state”.

The judgment also criticised the development of sectors G-13 and G-14 by the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF), saying that both were prime sectors of the federal capital and should be developed by the CDA. The plots, the verdict noted, were to be sold through public auction and the revenue collected should have enabled the authority to develop more sectors.

Justice Minallah set aside the notifications related to the acquisition of land and empowered CDA to initiate proceedings for the acquisition of land in accordance with the provisions of the ordinance of 1960.

The judge also reserved some ire for the civic agency, saying that the regulatory failure and negligence on the part of the authority was too obvious to be ignored.

Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2017

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