KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has restrained the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) from reclaiming further land from the sea and granting such land to anyone as well as creating a third party interest till Nov 16.
The SHC also directed the DHA and other official defendants to ensure that the land earlier sanctioned to them as public spaces was not used for any commercial and gainful purposes till next hearing of the case.
The bench comprising Justice Zulfiqar Ahmad Khan appointed an official assignee to inspect the reclaimed land being used by the DHA and furnish a report with photographs and maps of the land with the assistance of Karachi Urban Lab or National Institute of Oceanography Pakistan.
It also directed the official assignee to provide details of commercial places of 22 private entities, also nominated as respondents in the suit, about their title, occupation and land use within 15 days.
SHC orders land earlier allocated as public space won’t be used for commercial purpose
The court said that notices be repeated to defendants for next hearing since the bailiff report said notices served on them had been returned.
The court issued these directives on a suit filed by six plaintiffs, mostly residents of the DHA, who have approached the court under the Whistleblower Protection and Vigilance Commission Ordinance, 2019.
Nominating the defence secretary, the DHA, Cantonment Board Clifton, Karachi Cantonment Board, Cantonment Board Faisal, Civil Aviation Authority, Karachi Port Trust and several other government authorities and private entities as respondents, the plaintiffs contended that reclaimed land was being misused while the land meant for cantonment purposes was also being used for commercial and gainful purposes.
The lawyers for the plaintiffs argued that recently 22 private defendants in collusion with official defendants had illegally obtained the reclaimed land and the land meant for defence purposes without open auction and had constructed there wedding halls, super stores, housing societies, commercial-cum-residential buildings and other commercial facilities in violation of law and the Supreme Court’s orders.
They asserted that the land meant for defence purposes could not be sold to civilians or used for profitable purposes.
They maintained that the PAF Museum and Defence Authority Creek Club were being used for marriage functions and a cinema and a wedding hall were running on Main Rashid Minhas Road near Askari-4 while marriage halls had also been established on Dalmia Road and near the airport.
The counsel further argued that the DHA had the right of possession of 9,611 acres but it had taken control of 3,600 acres in different parts of the area unlawfully.
They alleged that the DHA had also occupied 117 acres in phase-VIII, which had undergone extensive land reclamation illegally as it had reclaimed over 300 acres though it did not have right of possession of the land, ownership rights and permission from the federal government in violation of Article 172(2) of the Constitution.
The bench noted in its order that the counsel contended that no environmental impact analysis of the unwarranted land reclamation and urbanisation had been made and the contention was affirmed by an officer of the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency present in the court.
Also as per the counsel, on account of such a massive reclaiming exercise, serious danger to Karachi ports was in the offing as underground sand was tilting towards the port, reducing water depth and requiring continuous dredging, while no study on affects of suspended sediments had ever been undertaken by the official defendants, the court noted.
If the reclamation site was near a marine reserve or marine habitat, the natural flow of sand transport combined with excess sand from the reclamation always cast adverse impacts on marine life and any development along the coast, particularly reclaimed land, always led to inundation from sea level rise due to climate change, it stated.
The bench said the contentions raised by the counsel merited serious consideration as the danger posed by land reclamation without any scientific, oceanographic sediment and subsidence studies or other studies was utterly irreversible.
It observed that even in developed countries despite having well thought of reclamation measures, more than 50 per cent of coastal wetlands had been lost, adding that adverse impact of land reclamation on mudflats, mangroves and coral reef could never be ruled out even in the presence of best practices having been adopted.
“Effects of global warming are already evident in the country and when the world is moving towards “Net-Zero” regime, haphazard and un-necessary land reclamation when a large mass of un-used land still exits, one questioning such activities, will always raise eyebrows”, the bench in its order said.
Till the next date of hearing, the defendants were restrained from reclaiming any further land from any shores existing in the territorial jurisdiction of the court, or granting any such land to anyone, or creating any third party interest on these lands or properties built thereon, or changing such lands’ use, and the official defendants were to ensure that lands and premises earlier sanctioned to them as public spaces, or for the purpose of parking or facilitating the public at large including parks and amenities should not be used for any commercial or gainful purposes, as well as for holding of any functions, including marriage or social gathering functions, generating any sort of revenue for the defendants, it concluded.
Published in Dawn, October 24th, 2021