Chief justice criticises DHA for 'using' widows, martyrs to pocket royalties

Published January 1, 2019
Affectees of Eden Housing scam hold a demonstration at Liberty Chowk in Lahore. —Dawn Archives
Affectees of Eden Housing scam hold a demonstration at Liberty Chowk in Lahore. —Dawn Archives

The Supreme Court on Tuesday declared null and void all agreements between the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and the Eden Housing Society, and ordered the former to develop the "11,000 plots sold by the latter within five years" in a bid to offer affectees some relief.

The court further indicated that an implementation bench could be formed to resolve the case, and instructed all suspects currently in the National Accountability Bureau's (NAB) custody in connection with the case to contact the relevant forums.

A three-member bench of the apex court, under Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar's stewardship, issued the orders while hearing the case in Islamabad.

At the outset of the hearing, the chief justice reflected on the complaints brought to him by those affected by the multi-billion housing scheme.

"Some 11,716 people have been affected by the Eden Garden Housing Scheme, and [around] 60,000 people from Lahore have been looted [in its name]. Meanwhile, those behind this scheme have fled after pocketing Rs13 billion."

"[These] people were defrauded in DHA's name," the top judge remarked.

When the hearing resumed after a brief adjournment, the DHA counsel defended his client by arguing that it had limited involvement in the project.

"This was a 25,000-kanal project," he said. "The DHA sold its name in exchange for 30 per cent of the total shares."

However, the chief justice was not satisfied. He asked the DHA representative: "Is it the army's job to develop housing societies?"

"I ask you, the army and everyone else this: Which country's army operates housing schemes?"

"The army's job is to protect the country's borders; not to participate in commercial activities," the judge said. "Had the DHA done this for our martyrs, it would have been [understandable]."

"Does any other country's army do this?" he asked again.

"The Malaysian army is involved in housing schemes," the DHA representative offered, to which the judge countered asking: "And have you modeled the army after just that one country?"

"Your name has been [stained] every time you have gone into housing schemes," Justice Nisar continued. "You have bought lands that were disputed and controversial, and in doing so, you have sold your goodwill.

"It seems that you people [the DHA] run your business by using widows and martyrs as a shield, and you pocket royalties [in their name]," Justice Nisar added.

"We should [perhaps] issue an order for DHA to acquire land and allot plots to the affected people [in the Eden Housing Society case] within three months. Whoever is owed whatever should receive their due."

"A payment should also be made for the land Eden Housing has given," Justice Ijazul Ahsan added. "A reasonable amount has to be ascertained [for the value of the land]."

Eden Housing Society scam

The affectees of the Eden Housing Society accuse group owner Dr Amjad and others of defrauding more than 10,000 people.

Dr Amjad and his two sons had fled in April 2017 to Canada as the interior ministry did not place them on the Exit Control List (ECL) despite NAB’s request.

In March 2018, NAB had decided to launch an investigation into all housing projects of Eden Developers after its failure to compensate affected people.

In Sep 2018, the Federal Investigation Agency had arrested Dr Murtaza Amjad, the son-in-law of former chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, in connection with the scam.

The arrest had come days after the people affected by the housing scam staged a protest demonstration outside Prime Minister Imran Khan’s Lahore residence, demanding the recovery of the millions of rupees allegedly looted from them in the name of the housing scheme.

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