PHC-constituted committee clears Malam Jabba resort issue

Published March 19, 2021
The Peshawar High Court, which in a judgment passed on Oct 1, 2020, had ordered the formation of that committee to submit its report to the government within two months. — APP/File
The Peshawar High Court, which in a judgment passed on Oct 1, 2020, had ordered the formation of that committee to submit its report to the government within two months. — APP/File

PESHAWAR: A high-level official committee has held that the 270 acres of land in Malam Jabba belonged to the tourism department and that prima facie, its entry to the revenue record was erroneous.

The six-page report submitted by the committee headed by the additional chief secretary to the government and approved by the cabinet may potentially make the highly-publicised NAB investigation into the Malam Jabba tourist resort infructuous.

The Peshawar High Court, which in a judgment passed on Oct 1, 2020, had ordered the formation of that committee to submit its report to the government within two months.

It had passed the order on a petition filed by Samson Group of Companies, which had been awarded the land on lease, seeking the execution of the lease without interference of any department, including NAB.

NAB’s case may become infructuous

The case continues to provide fodder to the opposition parties and pops up in the media every now and then, though the NAB, which kept investigating the matter, has not filed any reference in the case until now.

“The NAB’s main case was the ‘illegal lease’ of protected forest land, so now we have evidence that the land in question never belonged to the environment department, which had laid its claim based on an erroneous entry,” a senior official said.

“The land belongs to the tourism department and therefore, it had the right to lease it out for the purpose for which the ex-ruler had provided the land for,” he said.

The official said the report had been shared with the relevant authorities. He, however, refused to disclose whether it had been shared with the NAB.

“They must be in a quandary, now,” he said.

The official said the advocate general might submit the report in the court though it was never asked for it.

The court, in its judgement, had spelled out the terms of reference for the committee to see whether the land in question belonged to the provincial government immediately after merger of the Swat State or was it given to the federal government prior to merger and was a federal government land.

The committee was also required to see which provincial government was the rightful custodian and owner of the land and whether the revenue entry pertaining to the land in question was correct or erroneous.

The report, a copy of which is available with Dawn, said the committee had sought written replies from the tourism and environment departments and district administration of Swat and firmed up its finding ‘based on historical facts and record’.

In its finding, the committee recalled that land measuring 6 acres and 7 kanals and 18 marlas was given to Pakistan Services Limited by the former ruler of Swat for the development of the tourist resort in 1974.

“There is no dispute on this piece of land,” the committee noted.

Land measuring 12 acres, 6 kanals and 15 marlas was part of the 270 acres of land that was given to PSL by Wali of Swat as per the letter of the Chief Secretary of the former ruler of Swat State and was meant skiining and chairlift. This is the land that remained contentious between the forest and tourism departments.

“A noteworthy aspect is that chairlift and skiing was planned on this tract of land in 1976 and chairlift was installed in the year 1988, there is nothing on record that suggests that forest department contested its ownership till was leased out to a private party for restoring the resort after the horrible spats of militancy in the region when the resort was destroyed by militants.”

The committee pointed out that the forest department had agreed to forgo its claim over this piece of property by de-notifying it as protected forest and its acquiescence was communicated in a summary to the chief minister in December, 2016 which was subsequently duly endorsed by the cabinet. The Board of Revenue however, could not revise its land record due to NAB investigation and subsequent cases in courts, the report noted.

The report said that the tourism department laid ownership claim to 257 acres, 1 kanal and 5 marlas of land, on the ground that it was given to Pakistan Services Limited which was the predecessor of Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation and that after 18th Amendment, Tourism Corporation, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa because its custodian as the federal government had transferred the land to tourism department and not forest department.

It said that the tourism department submitted documents in support of its claim that included a letter of the Chief Secretary of the former Wali Swat, PTDC’s continued usage of the land that forest department never questioned, extensive correspondence by PTDC requesting the provincial government for the mutation of the land and proceedings of meetings held by Commissioner Malakand and DC Swat.

Forest department’s claim relied on the entry in the revenue record made in 1984-85 and a forest management plan of 1964, it was noted. The committee however, noted that the ruler who had made the land although the land was part of the management plan, the same ruler had changed his earlier decision and given the land to PSL. Wali Swat edicts were laws and rules, it said.

Citing as ‘the most important piece of evidence’, the committee said a regulation promulgated in August 1969, immediately after the merger of princely states of Dir, Chitral and Swat, had provided continuity and protection to the administrative structure and legal governance in the region. This, it noted, had provided protection and continuity to the decisions of ruler of Swat including the 270 acres of land given to PSL for the establishment of a tourist resort.

“Based on the record available, official correspondence, representation by the representative of the Wali of Swat but most importantly The Dir, Chitral and Swat (Administration) Regulation, 1969, leads one to believe that prima facie the 270 acres of land was the property of Pakistan Services Limited on the eve of merger duly given to that federal entity by the ex-ruler of Swat,” the committee noted.

Answering the three questions that the PHC had asked, the committee noted that the land was handed over to the federal government by the ex-ruler for tourism purposes prior to merger of Swat and that after 18th Amendment, KP was its rightful custodian.

Regarding the entry in the revenue record, the committee noted that the entry regarding the land in the revenue record was prima facie erroneous.

Concluding the report, the committee noted that the case was a classic example of mis-coordination amongst the various government departments, none of which acted in a professional manner and inefficient communication between the federal and provincial entities.

Published in Dawn, March 19th, 2021

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