ISLAMABAD: Amidst applause apparently from real estate agents present in the courtroom, the Supreme Court accepted on Thursday the offer of Bahria Town (Pvt) Ltd to settle cases pertaining to its Malir or Karachi Superhighway project in lieu of payment of Rs460 billion.

The deal was struck when the counsel representing the developer agreed to enhance their offer to Rs460bn from the earlier Rs450bn.

“The offer is accepted,” declared Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed after a brief hearing about implementation of the court’s judgement of May 4, 2018 in which it was held that grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA) by the Sindh government, its exchange with the land of private land developers (Bahria Town) and anything done under provisions of the Colonisation of Government Land Act 1912 by the provincial government was illegal and of no legal existence.

The land was granted for launching an incremental housing scheme, but instead of launching such a project MDA exchanged it with Bahria Town that launched a scheme of its own, the judgement had held.

Settlement amount has to be paid in seven years

The deal reached on Thursday relates only to the developer’s Superhighway project, spread over 16,896 acres, and has nothing to do with the 5,472 kanals of land at Takht Pari Rakh, Rawalpindi, and 4,542 kanals at Sulkhatar and Manga Land, Murree. These cases will be decided separately.

“We have gone beyond our mandate,” said Advocate Khawaja Tariq Raheem while referring to the settlement amount but hastened to add that the understanding seemed reasonable.

The acceptance of the offer by the apex court has served to restrain the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) from filing references against the directors and officials of Bahria Town. However, NAB is required to furnish a copy of the reference to the court for its record.

In case of default in payment of the settlement amount during the period agreed to under the deal (which has been reduced to seven years from eight), NAB will be free to file corruption references against the developer, but after prior permission of the court.

During the hearing, additional Advocate General for Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Qasim Wadood suggested that the amount deposited by Bahria Town should not go entirely to the Sindh government but should be deposited in a special fund whose purpose would be decided later by the court.

At this, Justice Saeed observed that the matter had not escaped the court’s attention, adding that the court would hear out the parties concerned before taking a final decision in this regard.

While wrapping up the case, the court said the directors of Bahria Town would have to give personal guarantees regarding the payment schedule, adding that nothing would be done to benefit the developer and nothing to affect them adversely.

At the outset of the proceedings, Justice Muneeb Akhtar pointed toward Mr Raheem and reminded him that at the last hearing he had dropped some hints regarding raising the settlement amount.

Justice Saeed then chipped in and said everyone was getting bored over the proceedings; therefore Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, who was representing the developer, should consider enhancing the earlier offer of Rs450bn.

Mr Raheem and Mr Zafar sought some time to consult Haji Nawaz Khokhar, who is considered to be a close associate of Malik Riaz, the chairman of Bahria Town.

The court asked the land developer to furnish a down payment of Rs25bn, instead of Rs20bn, by Aug 27. A monthly instalment of Rs2.5bn would be paid during the first four years of the period agreed to. The rest of the amount would be paid in equal instalments in three years.

The rights of the property would be transferred in favour of Bahria Town in accordance with the law, the court explained, adding that the land provided to the developer would remain a security.

The court instructed the developer to inform it about the accounts in which the amount would be deposited. The accounts would be monitored by the apex court.

Published in Dawn, March 22nd, 2019

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