The Supreme Court on Friday, while hearing a case on illegal constructions and encroachments in Karachi, directed officials to demolish all illegally-constructed buildings in Punjab Colony, Delhi Colony, PNT Colony and Gizri Road areas of the metropolis.
The directions were given by a three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Faisal Arab and Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, at the apex court’s Karachi registry.
Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan, Sindh Advocate General Salman Talibuddin, Sindh Chief Secretary Mumtaz Shah and officials from the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) appeared before the court.
During the proceedings, the court grilled cantonment officials, persistently questioning "who gave the orders for constructing such tall buildings in colonies".
This prompted the counsel for the cantonment board to say: "There is permission to construct ground-plus-one buildings in Delhi Colony."
"Who said Delhi Colony is a residential area? Clearly you have not gone to the place in question. You cannot satisfy us by speaking in English," remarked Justice Ahmed.
Taking the CBC land director to task, the CJP said: "You sold flats for Rs50 million each and now you are saying that this construction is illegal. Do you walk with your eyes closed, do you even know the meaning of cantonment?"
Noting that the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) was established even before the CBC, the CJP then went on to say: "If we examine the record of DHA [too] most of the allotments would turn out to be unauthorised."
Justice Ahmed told the attorney general to raze the illegal buildings in the aforementioned areas to the ground. When officials pointed out that these were difficult tasks to carry out, the CJP stressed that they had to be done "even if I am dismissed".
Addressing the attorney general, the CJP again questioned who gave permission for constructing the buildings. "It's not as if the cantonment board can go around doing as they please," he said.
This prompted officials from the CBC to say that they have taken action against illegally-constructed buildings on several occasions.
"We have given orders for razing unlawful constructions," stated an official, adding that the laws allowed for constructing ground-plus-two buildings on residential plots and five-storey buildings on commercial plots.
"What world are you living in," remarked the CJP. "Do you think we are unaware of the reality," he questioned before proceeding to grill the CBC land director.
"How are such massive buildings next to Kausar Medico being given the green signal? You were trusted with government land. What exactly is going on [in the board]," the court remarked.
"The district administration, the Sindh government and the federal government have all been unsuccessful. The situation in Karachi has now become dire," said Justice Ahmed.
He remarked that katchi abadis in Lines Area should be removed and the residents transferred to multi-storey buildings. "They [katchi abadis] hang from Quaid-i-Azam's mausoleum like a decorative piece of jewelry. A flyover should not have been constructed in the area," he observed.
The attorney general replied that officials can sit down with the Sindh government and the cantonment board to draw up a plan for this.
This prompted Justice Arab to question officials about land allotment. "Why didn't you keep land aside for playgrounds and parks when you were allotting land for Bahria Town and other [housing schemes]," he questioned.
"It saddens us greatly that you yourself are not thinking about this," he said.
Addressing the Sindh advocate general, the CJP said: "Why are you not legislating, Should we make the laws for you? We will not form a committee or any commission, you will have to act upon the law."
The official replied that if you rely only upon the Sindh government, everything will appear "white washed". "If there is something to be fixed only you can fix it," he replied.
"If it is not done today, then 20 years down the line another attorney general and advocate general will be saying the same thing [as we are today]," he said.
The issue will not be resolved until the relevant authorities are fixed, observed Justice Shah.
Addressing the Sindh advocate general, the CJP said: "This is a city of tens of millions. We do not wish to say something that may cause harm. [At the same time], we cannot see anything that is promising.
The official replied that approximately 6,000 people have been made homeless due to removing encroachments from the railway tracks.
The CJP remarked: "You only look at it from a voter's angle. If you are so concerned about them, then you should come up with the necessary legislation to give them homes."
The advocate general maintained that the federal government currently owes the provincial government Rs100 billion. "The attorney general will also tell you this," he said, adding that on paper Rs105 billion was spent on Thar but the reality was very different.
"All of the money went abroad. If this money also surfaces, it will likely vanish," the CJP said, before asking the chief secretary whether a town planners committee had been constituted.
"A committee of experts has begun work. We have sent recommendations to the cabinet, so it may take further time," the chief secretary replied.
Asking the officials for advice, the court remarked: "Give us suggestions for eliminating encroachments, for resettling katchi abadis and for helping those affected by this."
Commercial activities on KPT land
Hearing a case regarding commercial activities on land belonging to the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), the court admonished officials for assuming charge of government land.
Addressing the KPT’s counsel, the court remarked: “You do not own the land. You were given it to carry out activities related to the KPT.”
“How can you lease the land when the lease does not belong to you,” questioned Justice Gulzar. “You were only given land for the port’s use. But you are allotting KPT land to yourself,” he remarked, adding that this was a conflict of interest.
“As chief justice, should I allot land belonging to the Supreme Court to my name or to that of my judges. We have been given land to run the courts, not for our own personal interests,” he said.
Resuming the hearing after a short break, the chief justice said: “I want to refrain from giving any such comments which may cause harm. But the problem is that not a single one of your departments has its affairs in order."
“I was born in this city. Please point out those areas where which are free of any construction. Police stations themselves are being given on rent," said Justice Arab.
“You have sold everything,” he remarked, adding that it was particularly painful because nothing had been left.
“The attorney general and I share the same sentiments,” replied the advocate general.
“What will happen to the city,” lamented the CJP, adding that officials disappear after narrating their stories.
The court directed that if the land is not being used by the port, it should be returned to the government.
“Countless people will be affected by your directions,” replied the KPT’s counsel.
"You have given leases for 99 years. In this way, all government departments will be able to give their land to their own people," the court observed, adding that the KPT is a trust and not a trustee.
Commenting on the report submitted by the KPT chairman, the CJP said: "If we give an order on the report that has been submitted, the result will not be pleasant. It is best if the chairman takes the report back."
The hearing was adjourned for Feb 21.
CJP Ahmed had earlier passed several orders against unauthorised and illegal constructions, encroachments on amenity plots, parks and other public spaces, commercial activities on cantonment lands, conversion of residential and amenity plots into commercial spaces and to restore the past glory of the provincial metropolis.