LAHORE: The Punjab government has ratified the allotment of up to 25 acres of state land, which was meant for the families of the martyred soldiers and war veterans under the Army Welfare Scheme (AWS), to 47 civilian government officials.
The allotments had been made without legal sanction on the orders of former dictator Gen Pervez Musharraf in contravention of the merit and law, two persons in CM Secretariat confirmed on condition of anonymity.
According to the sources in the Punjab CM Secretariat, the Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government had cancelled the allotment, which had been ordered by the former military dictator during January 2004 and May 2008 in alleged violation of the Colonisation of Government Land (Punjab) Act 1912 and the allotment policy framed in 1962 under it for the AWS.
After the cancellation order, the PML-N government also rejected multiple summaries put up to former chief minister Shahbaz Sharif for ratification. The land branch of GHQ had first approached the Punjab government in April 2009 to not revoke the allotments. The military was of the opinion that the “allotments made to the civil officials may be treated as closed chapter” and offered to work out allotment modalities for future in consultation with the provincial government and the provincial Board of Revenue. However, Mr Sharif did not oblige.
Beneficiaries include federal cabinet division secretary, PSO to CM Buzdar
The sources in CM Secretariat said around 837 acres of the AWS land had been allotted to civilian officials without consulting the provincial government. The land had been allotted in districts of Bahawalpur, Pakpattan, Khanewal, Sahiwal, Muzaffargarh, Bahawalnagar, Rahim Yar Khan and Sadiqabad.
The former CM rejected another summary prepared by the Board of Revenue in February 2012, as the then Punjab chief secretary noted that it didn’t augur well for the civil service and the overall good governance.
According to the fresh summary approved by the Usman Buzdar government to restore and validate the allotments, the Sharif government had cancelled the allotments and retrieved the allotted land from the beneficiary officials in 2010, because the land was actually allotted to the military for a specific purpose under the law.
Those who had sold the land allotted to them were told by the Sharif administration to deposit the sale proceeds to the provincial treasury. The provincial officials who had benefited from the GHQ’s decision were suspended while the matter of the three DMG officers who got the land was sent to the Establishment Division. Apparently, the Establishment Division did not take any action against them.
The prominent beneficiaries include DMG officers – Sardar Ahmed Nawaz Sukhera (currently the federal cabinet division secretary), Dr Faisal Zahoor and Syed Imtiaz Hussain Shah. Ex-PCS officials who will benefit from the government decision include Mohammad Zahid Ikram, Sikandar Ali Bokhari, Syed Najaf Abbas Bokhari, Malik Mohammad Ramzan, Mohammad Ashraf Yousufi, Abdul Ghafoor Virk, Dur Mohammad Khan, Irshad Mohyuddin, Syed Zahid Hussain Jilani, Mohammad Ashfaq, Mohammad Akram Bhatti, Amir Karim Khan (currently PSO to CM Buzdar), Mushtaq Ahmed Anjum and Mohammad Azam Khan. The remaining officials mostly included district revenue officials.
Eight beneficiary officers then filed a petition with the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the cancellation order of the Punjab government. In June 2013, the court directed the Board of Revenue member (colonies) to set aside the cancellation order and decide the matter afresh in accordance with the law after considering all the legal and factual submissions made by the parties and after following due process required under the law.
The GHQ then cancelled the allotments in October 2013 in its papers.
Officials at the CM secretariat said as long as Mr Sharif was there, no one dared to bring the matter up again.
Later in November 2019, the DG Lands at GHQ wrote to the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf government led by Mr Buzdar for restoration of the allotments, stating that “all the orders of president/chief executive of Pakistan were subsequently given constitutional protection and also upheld by the Supreme Court of Pakistan in the Tikka Iqbal case”.
Strangely enough the DG Lands did not mention that the said judgement was overturned by a 14-member bench in July 2009 in the PCO Judges case.
Two days after the receipt of the DG Lands’ letter, the BoR member (colonies) initiated a fresh summary for the Punjab CM, requesting Mr Buzdar to “take an explicit decision whether to withdraw the order cancelling the impugned allotments”. The chief minister referred the matter to the standing committee of the cabinet on legislative business that in February endorsed the viewpoint of the DG Lands, GHQ.
The chief minister later approved the allotments “as recommended by the standing committee subject to ratification by the cabinet” given last week.
Neither Punjab Information Minister Fayyazul Hasan Chohan nor Principal Secretary to Chief Minister Iftikhar Sahoo responded to Dawn queries and repeated texts and calls in this regard during the last three days.
The only time Mr Chohan replied was when he texted back and sought the questions in writing, but never reverted back.
The questions sent to the minister were if the provincial government/cabinet had validated the allotment of AWS land to the 47 civil officials in its meeting on Thursday? What factors had led the cabinet to overturn the cancellation of the allotments by the previous government for being illegal after so many years?
Published in Dawn, May 4th, 2020