Mystery persists over size of land possessed by Bahria Town

Published November 30, 2018
SC asks Sindh advocate general to determine whether the builder has committed contempt of court. — Photo courtesy of Bahria Town
SC asks Sindh advocate general to determine whether the builder has committed contempt of court. — Photo courtesy of Bahria Town

ISLAMABAD: Three different claims emerged during proceedings in the Supreme Court on Thursday about the size of land in the possession of Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd, Karachi, with the developer’s counsel claiming it had over 18,000 acres.

As the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) told a three-judge bench headed by Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed that the land in possession of the company was 12,156 acres, the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco) put the figure at 16,778 acres (as of Oct 13). On July 20, 2012, Bahria Town, Karachi, possessed 12,156 acres.

Take a look: Bahria Town Karachi: Greed unlimited

However, the senior counsel representing Bahria Town, Barrister Ali Zafar, surprised most people in the court by claiming that the land possessed by the builder was 18,336 acres, of which 7,068 acres had been acquired from the Malir Development Authority (MDA) under a special arrangement.

He also explained that some of the land had been acquired by the developer privately from private owners in Jamshoro district that borders Malir district.

SC asks Sindh advocate general to determine whether the builder has committed contempt of court

To substantiate his claim, the counsel submitted to the court a detailed layout plan of the housing scheme launched by Bahria Town, Karachi.

During previous hearings the court had asked that the exact size of the land in physical possession of the company be determined, with proper description as well as prices of the built-up properties and plots.

In its May 4 judgement, the apex court had held that the grant of land to MDA by the Sindh government, its exchange with the land of the private developer — M/s Bahria Town — and anything done under the provisions of Colonisation of Government Land Act 1912 (COGLA) by the Sindh government was illegal, void ab initio and of no legal existence.

The land was granted for launching an “incremental” housing scheme. But instead of launching the scheme, MDA exchanged it with Bahria Town, the judgement held. MDA was created under the Malir Development Authority Act 1993 for the purpose of developing certain areas of Karachi division.

“The greatest mystery in Pakistan is to know what the actual size of the land in Bahria Town’s possession is,” regretted Justice Saeed, the head of the bench monitoring implementation of the May 4 judgement.

The court ordered Suparco to compare and reconcile the layout plan of Bahria Town with their images and point out discrepancies if any.

The commission would also take into consideration the private land acquired by the developer, Justice Saeed said, adding a clarification was required, more particularly about the exact boundaries of Bahria Town.

Earlier, the court rejected a report submitted by a Suparco director, Dr Sanaullah Shah, when he tried to explain that the boundaries of the housing scheme were difficult to ascertain while the development work was still continuing.

“This is not what we expected from the government department,” Justice Saeed said, adding that the bench could engage a foreign company to do the job.

At the conclusion of the proceedings, Justice Saeed advised the Bahria Town’s counsel to cooperate with NAB in their investigation; otherwise “they would have to face the consequences”.

During the proceedings, NAB had told the court that despite repeated notices, Malik Riaz and his family members had not joined the investigation.

Similar notices have been sent to different banks maintaining accounts of Bahria Town but their replies are still awaited.

NAB assured the court that it was aggressively pursuing the case but said its investigation suggested that Bahria Town was in defiance of the court’s earlier restraining order about selling built-up units or plots.

NAB said it had also issued notices to utility companies like water and sewage departments and gas companies to furnish memorandums of understanding for the supply of various provisions to Bahria Town. The water and sewage department had replied that it had not signed any agreement with the developer for supply of water to the residents.

When a resident of Bahria Town tried to interrupt the court’s proceedings, Justice Saeed pointed to Barrister Zafar and said such interruptions reflected badly on the builder.

The court could consider holding in-camera proceedings in the case, he said.

The bench also asked Advocate General of Sindh, Salman Talibuddin, to go through the reports filed by Bahria Town and determine whether the builder was guilty of committing contempt of court. In case he was convinced that contempt of court had indeed been committed, the Sindh government might move an application for appropriate proceedings against Bahria Town.

Population growth

A separate bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar postponed further proceedings about population growth till Dec 13 when it was told that a one-day national conference on the issue is scheduled to be held on Dec 5.

Under the auspices of the Supreme Court, the Law and Justice Commission of Pakistan would hold the conference at which Prime Minister Imran Khan would be the chief guest.

The conference would be held in the Supreme Court building and would be presided over by the chief justice.

Additional Attorney General Nayyar Abbas Rizvi told the court that the Council of Common Interests (CCI) in its meeting of Nov 19 had approved the recommendations of a task force and had appointed different task forces in the provinces in this regard.

At the last hearing on Oct 30, the chief justice had ordered the government to call a meeting of CCI for formulating a policy about the “population bomb”.

Earlier, a task force headed by Dr Fida Muhammad Khan of the Federal Shariat Court had expressed concerns that Pakistan’s population would double in the next 30 years.

Published in Dawn, November 30th, 2018

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