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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday suspended a judgment passed by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against two lucrative housing schemes of the federal government.

A three-member bench, comprising Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar, took up an appeal filed against the decision of the IHC that had scrapped the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF)’s project of developing F-14 and F-15 in Islamabad.

The apex court remarked whether the FGEHF could be barred from undertaking the housing schemes.

Islamabad High Court had asked CDA to take over F-14 and F-15

The court observed that this was the first case in which the housing foundation had been stopped from launching a project.

Munir Paracha, the counsel for the villagers whose lands had been acquired for the projects, sought permission to make submissions with regards to the suspension of the judgment. The court said the counsel would be heard.

A division bench of the IHC on Sept 25, 2018, had upheld the ruling of Justice Athar Minallah of the same court that asked the Capital Development

Authority (CDA) to take over the under-developed schemes and judiciously dispense the plots after developing the two sectors.

Justice Minallah had 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.”

It added that the approval for the scheme proposed to establish F-14 and F-15 was accorded by the prime minister without placing the proposal before the federal cabinet.

There is “no act of parliament empowering 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 Islamabad’s district courts, the judgment said these judges who “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 to the foundation for plots, 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.”

Justice Minallah noted that journalists and media workers, who were supposed to hold state organs accountable by exposing their misdeeds, had also been made stakeholders.

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

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.”

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 added that the Lahore High Court (LHC)’s Rawalpindi bench hearing a case related to the acquisition of land for G-13 had, on Nov 8, 1999, prescribed the criteria for allotment of plots to judges of the superior courts.

The bench had directed to include employees of autonomous and semi-autonomous organisations, the Election Commission of Pakistan, Supreme Court, Federal Shariat Court and LHC Rawalpindi bench, National

Assembly, senior members of the armed forces, journalists, doctors, engineers and lawyers.

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.”

Justice Minallah had set aside the notifications related to the acquisition of land and empowered the CDA to initiate proceedings for the acquisition of land.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018