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'My experience with JITs has not been good,' Nawaz tells SC in Pakpattan land case

Updated December 04, 2018

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Nawaz Sharif is facing the charge that as Punjab chief minister in 1986 he allegedly allotted Auqaf lands around Pakpattan to Dewan Ghulam Qutab in violation of a high court order. ─ DawnNewsTV
Nawaz Sharif is facing the charge that as Punjab chief minister in 1986 he allegedly allotted Auqaf lands around Pakpattan to Dewan Ghulam Qutab in violation of a high court order. ─ DawnNewsTV

Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar on Tuesday suggested that ousted premier Nawaz Sharif propose which institution should investigate the charges against him of the 1986 illegal allotment of Waqf property attached to a Pakpattan shrine after the PML-N supremo expressed his reservations over being probed by a joint investigation team (JIT).

Sharif is facing a charge that being the chief minister of Punjab in 1986 he ordered withdrawal of a notification of Dec 17, 1969 and allegedly allotted huge lands of Auqaf around Pakpattan to Dewan Ghulam Qutab in violation of the high court order.

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar had earlier directed the former prime minister to appear before the court today to explain his position in the case.

As the hearing began, the chief justice asked about the whereabouts of Sharif, who then proceeded to the rostrum.

"What is your opinion of your written stance on the matter?" the judge asked him, to which Sharif replied: "This is a 32-year-old incident. I don't remember any such order being passed."

Justice Nisar then asked Sharif if he would like to be briefed on the background of the case, and went on to explain that the claimants of the Auqaf property had petitioned the court.

"The high court also said the land belongs to the Auqaf department. But you allotted the land to a private owner in violation of the high court's decision," the top judge added. "If you did not hand over the Auqaf land to a private owner, you will be absolved of all charges."

Justice Ijazul Ahsan pointed out that Sharif's secretary Jawed Bokhari had issued a summary regarding the land.

"The same thing happened in the Attaul Haq Qasmi case," he recalled, referring to the illegal appointment of Qasmi as managing director Pakistan Television, in which the former premier's secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad was found guilty of processing the summary for the appointment.

"Fawad Hassan Fawad had said that approval was granted by the prime minister," the chief justice observed. "Did your secretary denotify the land?" he asked Sharif.

"I am also astonished by what you are astonished by," Sharif responded.

"To do justice is not just the job of the court," Justice Nisar told Sharif. "People in your position should also provide justice."

"If the chief minister at the time did not suspend the notification, then who did? Who was the beneficiary?" he asked. "If you did not have the authority, then how were the 1969 and 1971 notifications cancelled?"

"The Auqaf director general does not have the authority to allot land to a private owner," Justice Nisar said. "Your secretary gave approval. You were a very energetic chief minister," he remarked.

"The private owner will only have true ownership of the property if it actually belonged to the Dewans," the chief justice said, referring to the shrine's caretakers.

The court also reprimanded Barrister Zafarullah, who also appeared in court today, saying that he is "not a practising lawyer, but a politician".

The private land owner's lawyer, Iftikhar Gilani, observed that the Auqaf department does not get ownership of land if it is denotified.

"Let's form a joint investigation team (JIT)," the chief justice suggested. "Mian sahab is wary of joint investigation teams," he added.

"My experience with JITs has not been good," Sharif responded. "Make something other than a JIT."

"We do have to probe the matter," the chief justice reminded the ousted premier. "The reputation of the former two-time chief minister and three-time prime minister must be cleared."

"Let's make you the judge then," Justice Nisar commented. "You can look into it and tell us within a week which institution should be called upon to investigate the matter."

The chief justice also commented on the size of the entourage that accompanied the PML-N supremo to court and said that the ousted prime minister does not need to be present in court in the next hearing.

"His lawyer can present his arguments," the chief justice said, adjourning the case for one week.

SC takes up review petition on 2015 ruling

The SC took up a review petition against the land dispute which had been decided by the apex court back in 2015.

Justice Nisar, during his visit to the Baba Farid shrine earlier this year, had promised justice in the case when dozens of the affected people raised slogans to get his attention towards their plight.

The demo at Darbar Chowk in Pakpattan was organised by the Citizen’s Rights and Welfare Organization which claims working for 20,000 households in public interest and seeks ownership rights of the land they purchased from the Dewans, the caretakers of the shrine, during the last 70 years.

The Dewans claim that they had been declared caretakers of 14,500 kanal land of the the Baba Farid shrine but the Auqaf department says the shrine caretakers had no right to sell the land as it was not their jurisdiction to sell ownership rights of the land associated with the shrine since centuries.

The Dewans filed a review petition with the Supreme Court against the Auqaf Department for defense of their right to sell the land.

Background of the case

After Partition, Dewan Ghulam Qutab and his family used to be the 'owners' of the shrine’s land as per the revenue record from 1947 to 1958.

The family sold the land to different people until Jan 1, 1970, when the Punjab government notified the Auqaf Department as the rightful owner of the land and Dewans the custodian of the shrine. When Dewans moved the court, the Lahore High Court decided against them.

In 1986, the government withdrew its 1970 notification and the Dewans reciprocated by withdrawing their appeal from the Lahore High Court against the decision.

With this, the Dewans resumed their land selling business and the revenue department issued ownership rights (fard) to all buyers.

In the meantime, a 1981 case regarding 17 marlas land filed in a civil court reached the Supreme Court by 2015.

The apex court chief justice took suo moto of the land deals of the shrine and summoned officials of the revenue and auqaf departments and the Dewans.

After some hearings, the Supreme Court declared notification of Aug 28, 1986, illegal and nullified all land deals done since then. The decision reportedly affected 100,000 residents of different localities.

The Dewans filed a review petition with the Supreme Court against its 2015 decision which remained pending since than.

Previous hearing

At the last hearing on Nov 13, the court had expressed its surprise over how a chief minister changed a high court verdict and allotted the properties to an individual.

"You have put at stake the political career of a three-time prime minister," the CJP had observed while rejecting the reply furnished by Barrister Munawar Iqbal on behalf of Sharif.

"I am sure that Sharif does not even have an idea what the case is all about," CJP Nisar had observed, directing the former prime minister to appear before the court and explain why he withdrew the notification.

In his reply, Sharif had requested the court to discharge the notice issued to him in the interest of justice, adding that the case at hand was a very old matter having taken place about 32 years ago and, therefore, he did not recall having ever passed any order of withdrawal purportedly attributed to him being the chief minister of Punjab at the time.

Consequently, from the record as collected from the paper books submitted by the Punjab government before the Supreme Court, it transpired that the Auqaf department of Punjab via its notification of Jan 17, 1961 took over the administration, control, management and maintenance of the shrine of Hazrat Baba Farid-ud-Din Masud Ganj Shakar Sahib, Pakpattan Sharif.

Subsequently, with the approval of the then governor of Punjab, the Lahore Auqaf department had issued another notification of Dec 17, 1969 for taking over additional land which later resulted in litigation between the two parties.

The reply stated that Dewan Ghulam Qutabud Din, Sajada-Nashin of shrine of Baba Farid Ganj Shakar, moved the application in June 1986 to the then prime minister through the then governor stating therein that the disputed property taken over by Auqaf department, Lahore, was his personal and ancestral property, therefore, it should be returned to him.

This application of Dewan Ghulam Qutabud Din was ultimately set down in the office of the chief minister.

The reply stated that the record had established that the then chief minister did not order the withdrawal of the relevant notification of Dec 17, 1969.