Proposed amendments to minority property ordinance challenged

Published September 19, 2021
A file view of the Islamabad High Court. — Dawn
A file view of the Islamabad High Court. — Dawn

ISLAMABAD: The Church Property Protection Movement has challenged the recent proposed amendments to the Minority Common Property Ordinance Act 2020 in the Islamabad High Court (IHC).

The writ petition says the amendments will open a back door channel to sell the common property of the minorities.

Legal Adviser and Church Property Protection Movement Coordinator Zeeshan Ijaz said the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Inter-Faith Harmony wanted to promote thievery by playing into the hands of a few vested interests, who would sell the church properties spreading all over the country.

The petition maintained that the amendment moved by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and has been approved by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Religious Affairs was a violation of the constitution.

The petitioner highlighted that the amendment had been made in the ‘The Protection of the Communal Properties of Minorities Ordinance 2001’, but this law does not exist, because all the functions related to the religious minorities including this ordinance has been transferred to the Provinces after the 18th Amendment.

The amendment in the law states that the Ministry of Religious Affairs would be authorised to issue NOCs for the sale, purchases, transfer and gifts of communal properties, on the recommendations of the National Commission for Minorities.

Zeeshan Ijaz, legal adviser to the Church Property Protection Movement, said that there were three violations in the said amendment.

“First of all the law does not exist, as it has been devolved to the provinces, secondly it was a violation of the Trust Act 1882, which does not allow the sale and transfer of communal properties and it was also a violation of the Peshawar High court Decision of 2017,” Mr Ijaz added.

In a detailed judgment of October, 2017, the late Chief Justice of the Peshawar High Court, Waqar Ahmad Seth, had declared the sale, purchase and transfer of trust property through NOC as contradictory to the Trust Act, 1882.

As amendment being pushed by the ministry of religious affairs would allow the ministry to issue NOCs for sale or transfer of properties belonging to the church, cemetery, missionary institution and other institutions.

Mr Ijaz said the amendment will mostly hit the Christian community, as Church has significant properties in most of the urban areas of country, including Murree and Abbottabad, etc., and the vested interest have eyes on this prime land.

He said that no NOC was issued even after the Minority Common Property Ordinance Act 2001, because the Church Property Protection Movement approached Ijazul Haq, minister for religious affairs at that time and appraised him of the fallout of the said law, which would lead to rampant growth of land mafias in the affairs of the church.

Published in Dawn, September 19th, 2021

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