SC reserves verdict on fate of Bahria Town funds

Updated 30 Jun 2020


Centre suggests constitution of high-powered committee to ensure transparency in use of funds. — Bahria Town/File
Centre suggests constitution of high-powered committee to ensure transparency in use of funds. — Bahria Town/File

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Monday reserved its ruling on the federal government’s suggestion about constitution of a high-powered committee to ensure transparency in the use of funds being deposited by the Bahria Town Karachi.

While the federal government, through an application, had sought to transfer the funds being deposited in the apex court by the Bahria Town to its ‘Public Account’, the Sindh government asked for utilising the funds for development projects it had initiated.

A three-judge Supreme Court implementation bench, headed by Justice Faisal Arab, also decided to conduct a fresh survey by the Survey of Pakistan to determine the actual occupation of lands in possession of the Bahria Town Karachi.

On March 21, 2019, a three-judge SC bench, headed by former judge Sheikh Azmat Saeed, had approved Rs460 billion offer put forth by the Bahria Town to implement the apex court’s May 4, 2018 judgement in which it was held that the grant of land to the Malir Development Authority (MDA) by the Sindh government, its exchange with the land of Bahria Town and anything done under the provisions of the Colonisation of Government Land Act, 1912 by the Sindh government were illegal and of no legal existence.

Centre suggests constitution of high-powered committee to ensure transparency in use of funds

The land was granted for launching an incremental housing scheme, but instead of launching the scheme, the MDA exchanged it with Bahria Town to launch a scheme of its own, the judgement had regretted.

The settlement pertains to the Bahria Town’s Karachi project spreading over 16,896 acres.

At the outset of Monday’s hearing, Barrister Syed Ali Zafar, representing the Bahria Town, informed the court that his client had paid one-year instalments up to September 2020 amounting to Rs55.3bn. He said he had also filed an application in the court, requesting for additional time to deposit the remaining instalments in view of the prevalent situation due to the Covid-19 pandemic. The court, however, observed that the application would be fixed and heard before the next instalment was due.

When Justice Arab recalled reports on social media and in some papers that the Bahria Town had commenced work and encroached upon the MDA land beyond what was agreed in the map, the counsel said no MDA land had been encroached upon rather the Bahria Town had purchased additional private land outside the MDA territory. However, he said, the Bahria Town had filed another application in the court as the MDA had not given the developer the fully purchased land.

The court said it would ask the Survey of Pakistan to conduct a survey and submit a report on the actual land in possession of the property builder.

About the federal government’s request that the money paid by the Bahria Town be given to the proposed committee, Barrister Zafar said his client had nothing to do with how the money should be utilised, but added that if the court wanted to hear him as a lawyer he could make submissions after hearing Attorney General Khalid Jawed Khan and Advocate General for Sindh Salman Talibuddin.

The Sindh advocate general agreed that the funds would be utilised in Sindh’s development projects under a committee formed by the court, but disagreed with the proposal that the federal government should have a member in the committee.

In its application, the federal government, through AG Khan, had said the funds being deposited by the Bahria Town, primarily belonged to the people of Sindh and it would be most appropriate that the entire amount being deposited and to be deposited by the property developer be spent exclusively for the benefit and welfare of the people of Sindh in the most transparent and equitable manner. For this, it suggested that with the consultation of CJP a committee be constituted under the chairmanship of a former SC judge hailing from and residing in Sindh.

AG Khan suggested that the amount deposited by the Bahria Town, should be periodically spent on the projects on a 50-50 basis in urban/rural areas of Sindh. The federal and provincial governments should identify specific projects in Karachi as well as rural areas in Sindh for the consideration of the committee and before undertaking or initiation of the work, the committee should submit details of the projects for approval of the apex court, the proposal suggested.

It said the committee should execute and undertake the projects through the departments concerned or through public-private partnership or in any other manner or through bodies to ensure maximum transparency, as well as best possible use of funds for the projects. The amount spent on the projects should be subject to audit by the Auditor General of Pakistan as well as reputable independent auditors appointed by the committee, the proposal said.

Published in Dawn, June 30th, 2020