SC refuses to hear appeals in plot case before IHC ruling

Published November 24, 2021
A file view of the Supreme Court. — Photo via SC website
A file view of the Supreme Court. — Photo via SC website

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has decided to wait for a ruling by the Islamabad High Court (IHC) before hearing appeals against a restraining order given by the latter against the allotment of prized plots in the federal capital’s posh sectors.

On Tuesday, the apex court disposed of a challenge to the Aug 20 IHC order by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) after it was told that the high court had sought written replies from the parties concerned.

“We don’t consider it appropriate to proceed further on a matter in which the petitioners have assailed the interim order of the high court as the ruling has been reserved and will be announced soon,” observed a three-judge bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial.

“It is relevant to understand how a challenge to an interim order would be maintainable when the pending matter has been reserved for announcement of the judgement,” the bench observed.

On Monday a division bench of the IHC had reserved its decision on a ballot held by the FGEHA in August for allotment of plots in Islamabad’s F-14 and F-15 sectors. The court was hearing identical petitions filed against the ballot questioning the allotment of 4,723 plots to top judges and bureaucrats.

Justice Syed Mansoor Ali Shah, a member of the Supreme Court bench, suggested to Munir Paracha, an advocate for FGEHA, that his client should have gone to the Islamabad High Court to challenge its order of suspending the allotment of plots. But since the IHC had reserved its ruling, the present case had become infructous, the judge added.

Justice Shah observed that the petitioner should have raised his objection against the IHC’s move to exercise suo motu jurisdiction in the matter before the high court itself.

Justice Bandial told the petitioners that they could challenge the allotments either through an intra-court appeal before the high court or before the apex court after the IHC delivered its judgement.

In its order the Supreme Court said the petitioners had raised a plea that the Aug 20 IHC interim order had gone beyond the controversy raised before it and in doing so, the high court exercised suo motu jurisdiction to touch upon matters extraneous to the case.

The petitioners had argued the IHC lacked the authority to exercise suo motu powers. In its petition, the FGEHA pleaded with the apex court to set aside the Aug 20 IHC order of suspending the allotments made in favour of judicial officers who were serving, or had served, in the high court and the Islamabad District Courts.

The IHC had not only fixed the matter before a larger bench for further hearing, but also expressed its surprise that in the ballot for allotment of plots in F-14 and F-15 sectors, virtually every judicial officer of the capital’s District Courts was a beneficiary. This creates doubts because these individuals were expected to adjudicate upon petitions brought before them by the affected land owners, the court said.

The high court held that the matter involved a conflict of interest because the plots were given at prices that were substantially lower than the current market rates. Thus each beneficiary has a financial interest.

Moreover, the bench noted, the list included even those judicial officers who were dismissed on account of misconduct or corruption.

The appeal recalled that the petitioners before the high court had not challenged acquisition of the land.

The high court had raised questions through its Aug 20 order which were neither taken up by the petitioners nor any prayer to that effect was made in the writ petition, the appeal argued.

“This amounts to exercise of suo motu power which the high court does not have. The high court can invoke the writ jurisdiction under Article 199 either on the application of an aggrieved party or on the application of any person. The Aug 20 order is patently illegal,” the appeal highlighted. The FGEHA, it contended, was a public institution working for providing shelter to federal government employees and retirees, but it had been scandalised in the media by vested interests.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2021

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