AGP asked to explain if army’s directorate can own, manage land in national park

Published November 6, 2021
A file view of the Margalla Hills in Islamabad. — Wikimedia Commons
A file view of the Margalla Hills in Islamabad. — Wikimedia Commons

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday sought assistance from the attorney general for Pakistan (AGP) to explain if Messers Remount, the veterinary and farms directorate of the General Headquarters (GHQ), can legally own or manage state land within the protected area of the Margalla Hills National Park (MHNP).

The direction came on an appeal by Messers Monal Group of Companies which pleaded that before the expiry of the lease agreement with the Capital Development Authority (CDA) on Aug 31, 2021, the company had entered into a fresh agreement with Remount.

The petitioner company runs the Monal Restaurant, a popular eatery in the protected park. The veterinary directorate, Remount, is responsible for breeding and procurement of remount animals (horses) to meet the requirements of the army in addition to the fodder production, animal holdings, provision of milk and milk products for troops, arrangements for the procurement of green and dry fodder for farms cattle and dry fodder for army animals with necessary reserve for emergencies and breeding of beef and mutton animals and their supply to the armed forces.

IHC says it appears CDA can neither allow any construction nor grant leasehold rights in protected area

Authored by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah, a five-page order directed the court office to issue notice to AGP Khalid Jawed Khan to explain the status of the Remount Directorate and whether it can legally own or manage state land, particularly within the protected area of the national park, as notified under the Islamabad Wildlife (Protection, Preservation, Conservation and Management) Ordinance 1979 (IWPCMO). The case will be taken up again on Nov 9.

The court also directed the interior ministry, CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB) to nominate their senior officials to explain under what authority of law the directorate had been allowed to execute a lease agreement within the notified park.

The court also directed the CDA and the IWMB to submit reports and apprise the court of any illegal construction or activity undertaken contrary to the provisions of the IWPPCMO within the national park.

The court made it clear that in case the Remount Directorate fails to satisfy the court about its authority to grant leasehold rights within the notified area of the national park, it will explain why the high court may not order deposit of the rent before the concerned trial court.

The court regretted that the panel of lawyers representing the Monal Group of Companies namely advocates Saad Hashmi, Sajidur Rehman Mashwani and Yawar Mukhtar could not satisfy it that the company could have lawfully entered into a lease agreement with the Remount Directorate during the validity of the lease granted by the CDA.

“It also prima facie appears that the Remount Directorate cannot lawfully own state property in the light of Article 173 of the constitution, read with the Military Lands Manual nor grant lease hold rights.”

Article 173 of the constitution stipulates that all property acquired for the purposes of the federation or of a province will vest in the federal or the provincial governments.

“It appears prima facie that the CDA also could not allow any construction nor grant lease hold rights regarding any property which falls within the National Park area,” the order said, adding the property regarding which lease dispute was pending was situated within the area of the protected national park.

The court also cited a number of Supreme Court orders which in an explicit manner had held that no illegal activity or construction be allowed within the notified area of the national park.

Moreover, a constitutional petition of 2014 wherein the status of the national park and the failure on part of the responsible authorities to protect it from being harmed is also pending before the high court, the order recalled, highlighting that questions raised for adjudication in the instant appeal and petition were connected with questions raised in the present case the adjudication of which could have adverse consequences in the context of climate change and environmental degradation.

On May 19, 2020, a five-judge Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed had restrained the expansion of the Monal Restaurant with a direction to the CDA to replant trees which were fallen during the expansion and restore the area to its pristine position.

Published in Dawn, November 6th, 2021

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