LAND is a much prized and contested commodity in the country. In the process it has also come to be perceived as a political tool favouring certain individuals, an impression that can be particularly damaging to the system of checks and balances in a democracy. The judiciary must therefore tread particularly carefully in such matters when it comes to members of their fraternity to avoid even the appearance of impropriety.

On Monday, the Islamabad High Court suspended the allotment by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority of 4,723 plots in Islamabad’s F-14 and F-15 sectors, including 1,704 plots allotted to top judges and senior bureaucrats, until its next hearing on Oct 14. The court observed that the “distribution of acquired land by the Authority is not in accordance with a policy based on public interest”.

The IHC’s interim order was issued on an appeal against a single-member bench directive in September 2016 to the FGEHA to consider around 30,000 applicants who had been waiting for a decade to be allotted plots in two other sectors of the city. The two-judge bench asked the government to explain its preferential treatment of a few while ignoring over 30,000 others. In fact, as the court noted in its order, the beneficiaries of the balloting on Aug 17 also “included those who have been convicted or dismissed from service on charges of corruption or misconduct”.

Read: SAPMs, judges, others allotted plots in Islamabad’s new sectors

Last month, the IHC had declared illegal the policy — which dates from the time of Gen Musharraf’s regime — of allotting more than one plot to superior court judges and senior bureaucrats. Justice Kayani in his order, however, directed the government to develop a policy in this regard “in clear non-discriminatory manner so that confidence of citizens of Pakistan is restored upon the entire system of governance”.

In recent years, these citizens have watched in alarm and, indeed, resentment while the authorities have parcelled out land to influential members of society. Those sentiments have been further sharpened when people such as themselves have been deprived of their homes, built with their hard-earned money, because the courts in their wisdom have put a strict application of the law above the public interest. It does not help matters when, as in the present case, land is distributed at rates much lower than the market price, that too to well-remunerated individuals who can look forward to a decent pension on retirement.

In October 2020, in a Supreme Court case, Justice Faez Isa in an additional note wrote that under the law of the land, chief justices and judges of the superior courts are not entitled to plots of land. “The aphorism that, justice must not only be done but be seen to be done, is undermined if people perceive that cases are not decided without fear or favour. The executive giving plots to judges constitutes a favour.”

Published in Dawn, September 15th, 2021

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