The Supreme Court on Wednesday took up a case pertaining to alleged illegal allotment of Waqf property attached to a Pakpattan shrine, involving former prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
The court ordered all concerned parties of the case to submit their replies on a joint investigation team (JIT) report into the matter.
A three-judge bench of the apex court, comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Munib Akhtar, ordered the parties to submit their replies in 15 days.
In February, Sharif had requested the court to reject the report.
The JIT had filed its report in the apex court on Jan 15. In its report, the JIT had recommended initiation of criminal proceedings against several individuals, including the then Punjab chief minister Nawaz Sharif for withdrawing a Dec 17, 1969 notification and allotting the huge land of Auqaf around Pakpattan to Dewan Ghulam Qutab in 1986, allegedly in violation of a Lahore High Court (LHC) order.
During the proceedings today, Dewan Ghulam Qutab's lawyer, Iftikhar Gilani, said that he had already submitted his objections on the report and added that the apex court had taken notice of the matter after 29 years.
Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked if the land was the property of the then government or of Auqaf, to which Gilani responded that Auqaf only takes care of the property and does not have any property of its own.
Justice Bandial said that the question was that why the then chief minister had signed a summary and given the land to a private individual.
Former Punjab governor Rafiq Rajwana appeared in the top court for the first time to represent Sharif and said that the property was only given to the caretaker of the shrine to look after. He added that the caretaker had then sold the land.
Rajwana said that the secretary of Aukaf had issued a notification to take back the land from the Aukaf administration and added that Sharif had nothing to do with the matter.
"While signing the summary, no one thought what would happen in the future," Rajwana added.
He termed the JIT report a "one-man report".
Justice Bandial remarked that government lands should be protected and said that the summary for the allotment of the land had been approved by the then chief minister. He observed that the decision to allot the land was in violation of the court order.
The hearing of the case was adjourned till after Eid.
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 pieces of 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. Later Dewans moved the Lahore High Court but the case was decided against them.
In 1986, the government withdrew its 1970 notification and Dewans reciprocated by withdrawing their appeal before 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 last year for defence of their right to sell the land with the Supreme Court against its 2015 decision which remained pending since then.
Former Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar, during his visit to the Baba Farid shrine in 2018, had promised justice in the case when dozens of the affected people raised slogans to get his attention towards their plight.