ISLAMABAD: The Sup­reme Court on Friday barred Ms Bahria Town Karachi from selling any plot or constructed apartment in the housing scheme on the outskirts of the port city, declaring the grant of land to the Malir Develop­ment Authority and its exchange with the land of the private land developers illegal and void ab initio.

Thus, the government land would go back to the government while the land exchanged for the government land would [go] back to the Bahria Town, the apex court declared in a judgement authored by Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan.

The three-judge bench by a majority decision also declared that as a third party interest had been created in favour of allottees, the Board of Revenue might grant the land afresh under Colonisation of Government Land Act-1912 (COGLA) and Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar might constitute an implementation bench of the apex court to determine terms and conditions of the fresh grant.

Declares grant of land to Malir Development Authority and its exchange with land of private developers illegal

Justice Khan, who headed the bench, pronounced the judgement that also ordered National Accountability Bureau to resume its inquiry into the matter and take its investigations to its logical end within three months.

The bench had taken up a number of petitions involving the grant of 9,385-acre land in 43 Dehs — about nine kilometres from Toll Plaza on the Karachi-Hyderabad Superhighway and a 25-minute drive from the Jinnah International Airport —to the Bahria Town Karachi in 2015.

The land was granted for the launch of an incremental housing scheme. However, the MDA instead of launching the scheme exchanged it with the Bahria Town through its henchmen to allow the latter to launch a scheme of its own. The allegations levelled in the petitions moved before the apex court said the government land value was far higher than the value of the private land it was exchanged for.

For the purpose of development of certain areas of Karachi division, the MDA was created under the Malir Development Authority Act 1993.

Note of dissent

Justice Maqbool Baqar dissented with the majority decision and suggested that a nine-member committee be constituted to assess and evaluate the market price of the lands at the time of their exchange between the MDA and Ms Bahria Town Karachi.

Justice Baqar suggested that the committee to be headed by former Punjab chief secretary Nasir Mahmood Khan Khosa should carry out the exercise with the assistance of senior most officers from the Survey of Pakistan as well as a similar department in Sindh. He said Ms Bahria Town Karachi should deposit Rs2 million with the Sindh High Court within four days towards the expense that may be incurred by the committee and would also deposit further amount if needed.

Justice Baqar said the committee should complete its task within two months and submit its report to the apex court so that an appropriate order is passed accordingly. According to him, the Sindh police chief and Rangers director general be asked to provide adequate security to committee members during the conduct of the exercise, whereas the MDA, Karachi Development Authority, the local government department, Karachi commissioner, Board of Revenue, land utilization department, provincial secretary finance and others facilitate the assessment by the committee.

Implementation bench

According to the majority decision, since a great deal of work has been done by the Bahria Town Karachi and a third party interest has been created in favour of hundreds of allottees, the land can be granted to the Bahria Town afresh by the Board of Revenue under the COGLA provisions.

The judgement said an implementation bench of the apex court to be constituted by CJP Nisar would determine terms and conditions of the fresh grant, the land price and related questions such as whether it would be the price at which the Bahria Town sold the land to the people by and large, how much of the government land and how much of the private land has been utilised by the Bahria Town and what Bahria Town was entitled to receive in terms of money on the account of land development.

The verdict said the private developers would not sell any plot or any apartment after the announcement of the decision, as any allotment made after the announcement of this judgement would be considered void.

Account for allotment dues

The judgement said as a huge amount of money on account of allotment of plots, build-up units and commercial buildings was still outstanding against the allottees, some makeshift arrangement should be made to facilitate the recovery and secure it.

The bench ordered the additional registrar of the Supreme Court Karachi registry to open a special account facilitating the deposit of the outstanding amount against the allotments through pay orders, demand drafts or cross-cheques.

NAB to complete probe

Meanwhile, the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), which had earlier initiated an inquiry into the matter, will pick up the thread from where it left and take its investigations to its logical end. The bureau will also collect its initial investigation report which was submitted before the court in a sealed envelope to complete further probe within three months from the date of the announcement of the judgement, according to the verdict.

The judgement said NAB would also move a reference before the accountability court concerned against all those found responsible for causing loss to the state exchequer.

The verdict said it came to the court attention that lands had also been allotted to the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and many other societies on cheaper rates. If so, the verdict said, the chief justice would be requested to take a suo motu notice so that all of them are treated alike.

Published in Dawn, May 5th, 2018