ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court wants the authorities concerned to develop a strategy to discourage settlements in border areas by declaring a buffer zone similar to what India has done.
“Border areas are always very sensitive and allowing people to live in settlements near the border can compromise the country’s interest and also encourage smuggling and infiltration etc,” observed acting Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed on Wednesday.
The acting chief justice heading a three-judge bench was hearing a set of land disputes due to cancellation of plots allotted to the people in the border area for want of no-objection certificates.
The disputed lands were situated within a radius of five miles from the border. The central government framed a scheme in 1961 namely Scheme for Determination of Price, Terms and Conditions for the Allotment of Land under Martial Law Regulation-9, Zone B. The stated purpose and theme of the allotments was to make a first line of defence in the border area by means of permanent settlement of serving and retired army personnel.
The areas are situated from Shakargarh to Bahawalpur and the court was told by a number of appellants that though the area was eight kilometres in width, it runs thousands of kilometres adjacent to the border area between Pakistan and India.
Committee told to examine each case of land allotment in sensitive areas and issue NOC as per law
During the hearing the acting chief justice recalled how India had declared its border area a buffer zone for security reasons where nobody can live.
While pointing towards Attorney General Anwar Mansoor, the acting chief justice observed that Pakistan should also declare areas within the radius of one to two kilometres from the border as buffer zone.
The AG, however, replied that Pakistan was a very small country compared to India but assured the court that he would talk to the quarters concerned in this regard.
The acting chief justice then made it clear that nobody had the right to live in border areas and the government could take over such lands any time.
Justice Gulzar asked the appellants what they would do if war broke out between Pakistan and India.
One of the appellants told the court that he was a retired army officer who had been allotted the land near the border area and that border regulations did not apply to people like him. Recalling his placement during the 1965 and 1971 wars, he said he would defend his country in case of Indian aggression. The acting chief justice observed that it was the domain of the armed forces to defend the country.
Later, the court dictated in a consent order that all the private parties, which had not obtained NOCs from the relevant authorities, agreed that they would have no objection if the Border Area Committee (BAC) extended them an opportunity to examine their case for the grant of NOC.
The court also directed the authorities concerned to take further measures to secure border areas, which was also a military requirement.
The bench, however, disposed of the matter with a direction to the BAC to examine each and every case of the land allotment to private parties in the sensitive area and issue necessary NOC in accordance with the law and the requirements.
In this respect, according to the court, the BAC chairman will have all the powers to deal with the matter while keeping in view all the provisions of the law. This exercise, as the court dictated, should be completed within a year.
The committee would also examine whether the lands on the border area was rightly allotted even to the staff and officials of the border committee and if found to be illegal, the border committee should cancel the same, stated the court order.
Earlier, the BAC chairman filed a report in the court stating that major deviation in policies regarding border area would have serious national security repercussions. The report highlighted specific reasons for the transfer of State/ Evacuee/ Evacuee Trust lands within border belt of five miles or 8.1 kilometres to General Headquarters under Martial Law Regulation-9 of 1959 and duly validated under Article 225 (1) of 1962 Constitution and Articles 268 and 269 of the 1973 Constitution.
According to the report, reasonable restriction has to be seen in the larger context of the national security interest/ public interest. The BAC stated that public interest was supreme than private interest and the former must be preferred over property interest even to the extent of their destruction if necessary.
The BAC report also highlighted that in the previous and recent escalations with India, the inhabitants of border belt/ sensitive areas were always the first responder as presence of Regular Force was not possible on every inch of the ground.
Since there was prohibition on alienation and no penalty was fixed in the MLR-9 scheme of 1961, a number of people sold the allotted lands without obtaining necessary permission, which frustrated the entire theme/purpose of the regulation, the BAC report stated.
Undesirable elements/ individuals/ persons, including RAW elements and Indian agents, might have settled in the border area and passed sensitive information before, during and after the wars of 1965 and 1971, the report said. To mitigate the effects of such a situation along the entire border, GHQ reviewed the policies of border area, it said, adding that comprehensive instructions and orders were passed to ensure national security of the country.
Settlement of undesirable persons could jeopardise the security of the state along the border, the BAC contended, adding that in the ongoing hybrid war any settlement of undesirable elements in border belt even during peace time could accentuate the threat manifolds.
“Hostile intelligence agencies continuously make utmost effort to exploit the border areas and try to establish covert basis. NOC is the only mean available to check/deny ingress in border areas to agents of adversaries. Abolishment of NOC will serve the purpose of adversaries,” the report said, adding that if laws, procedures and policies on BAC were changed and or any major deviation in existing procedure was made, it would have very serious national security repercussions.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2019