ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to accept Messrs Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd’s offer of Rs250 billion for possessing huge chunks of lands in a questionable manner for developing upscale housing schemes in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Murree.
“We are not impressed,” retorted Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed while rejecting the offer, adding that the court was looking for a practical solution and that it was not a serious response.
The three-judge bench had taken up implementation of judgements in three different cases about housing schemes in Malir, Murree and Rawalpindi.
At the last hearing on Jan 9, the SC had ordered Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (Suparco), the Survey of Pakistan and the National Accountability Bureau to sit together and identify the land that the Bahria Town said was not in its possession and erroneously added by NAB.
Representing Bahria Town, Barrister Ali Zafar said the developer was willing to offer a lump sum of Rs200 billion for the lands in all the three cases pending before the court. While he was making the offer, Bahria Town chairman Malik Riaz was standing behind the rostrum along with the counsel.
As soon as the court rejected the offer, the real estate tycoon raised it to Rs250 billion in a bid to avoid legal proceedings against questionable acquisition of the lands. The bench reminded the counsel that a fine of Rs285 billion had been imposed on Bahria Town in 2004 and if the fine money was increased by 40 per cent, it would amount to Rs300 billion.
Barrister Zafar explained that the meeting of Suparco, Survey of Pakistan and NAB had held twice in which it was finally identified that the actual land in possession of the developer was 16,896 acres in Malir and not 25,601 acres as had been claimed by NAB earlier.
The court, however, ordered the commissioner, deputy commissioner, nazim concerned and representatives of the Sindh government to immediately take over the lands which are not in the possession of the developer.
Justice Saeed highlighted that time was not on the side of the Bahria Town. At this, the counsel offered again that the Bahria Town was willing to pay Rs150 billion for 16,896 acres of land in Malir district only. “It is over 16,000 acres,” Justice Saeed observed whereas Justice Faisal Arab on a lighter note reminded the counsel that in customs cases, the court hearing the cases have the authority to impose penalties if the evaluation of the goods were made in a proper manner.
The judge, however, appreciated the services of people like Malik Riaz in the national interest and said the real estate tycoon had done a tremendous job. The judge remarked that the land developer had the potential to change the country’s destiny. Let the nation be served by people like him, the judge said.
Barrister Zafar then raised the bid to Rs170 billion for the Malir project only, asking the court to imagine the lands if no development had been made. “We are making this offer in the national interest for over 16,000 acres of land in Malir district,” the counsel said before being reminded by Justice Saeed that this was not an auction. The judge said the national interest did not fit there since the bench was sitting only to implement the last judgement of May 4, 2018.
The counsel then requested the court to grant one week since his client intended to make separate proposals for the three projects.
The court ordered the Surveyor General of Pakistan to finalise the boundary of the areas in Malir district also asking the Malir commissioner to defend every inch of land and also guarantee to retrieve the lands which were not in Bahria Town’s possession. The court cautioned that it would not allow trespassing of government lands at any cost.
Justice Saeed said the court expected that a reasonable and proper offer would be made. In case of failure to impress the court, Justice Saeed made it clear, the bench would not like to look at the Bahria Town and proceed to decide the matter on its own. The case was then adjourned for a week.
Published in Dawn, January 16th, 2019