ISLAMABAD: A Supreme Court judge on Monday withdrew himself from the bench that has taken up for hearing a set of petitions moved by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) as well as its director general against the Aug 20 restraining order of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) against allotment of prized plots in the federal capital.
Justice Sajjad Ali Shah, who recused himself from the bench, is one of the beneficiaries of the allotment of plots in two sectors of Islamabad.
The bench also comprised Justice Umar Ata Bandial and Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah.
The petitioners had sought to set aside the Aug 20 IHC restraining order of suspending the allotments made in favour of the judicial officers, who were serving or had served in the high court and the Islamabad district courts.
At the outset of the proceedings, Justice Shah apprised other members of the bench about his decision after which Justice Bandial referred the matter back to Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed for the reconstitution of the bench with a request for early hearing on Nov 8.
Senior counsel Mohammad Akram Sheikh and Mohammad Munir Paracha represented the petitioners, respectively.
In its order, the IHC had not only fixed the matter before a larger bench for further hearing but also expressed its surprise that in the balloting regarding allotment of plots in sectors F-14 and F-15, virtually every judicial officer of the district courts of Islamabad who was expected to resolve and adjudicate upon the grievances and rights of the affected land owners was a beneficiary.
The high court had also held that this prima facie, raised serious questions regarding conflict of interest as the plots were given to the beneficiaries at substantially lower prices than the current market rates and thus each beneficiary had financial interest. Moreover, astonishingly, the list also included those judicial officers who had been dismissed for corruption or misconduct.
According to the appeals, the high court cannot exercise suo motu jurisdiction under Article 199 of the Constitution, but can only invoke this provision on the application of an aggrieved party.
The appeals reminded the apex court that the petitioners had not challenged land acquisition before the IHC. The IHC in its order had raised questions which were neither taken up by the petitioners nor any prayer to that effect was made in the writ petition, the appeal argued. This amounted to exercise of suo motu power that the high court did not have, the appeals argued, claiming that the IHC order was therefore patently illegal.
The appeals mentioned that the IHC while exercising jurisdiction under Article 199 could not travel beyond the grievance of an aggrieved party or a person. All contentious issues being raised by before IHC had been adequately resolved with admirable clarity by the larger bench of the Supreme Court and therefore the high court Aug 20 order was not sustainable in law, the petitioners contended.
Being a public institution, the FGEHA was functioning to provide shelter to federal government employees and retirees but it had been made dysfunctional and scandalized in media by the vested interests, the petitioners alleged. They argued that the IHC order had created a strong sense of concern among members of the FGEHA schemes and allottees across Islamabad and other capital cities.
The appeals further argued it was imperative that the adjudication of this matter of great public importance be in line with constitutional scheme of adjudication and without any influence from the parties involved so that FGEHA could continue its work uninterrupted and unhampered for the benefit of its members.
Published in Dawn, November 2nd, 2021