Defence secretary summoned in cantonment land conversion case

Published November 25, 2021
The Supreme Court Registry building on M.R. Kiani Road. — White Star/File
The Supreme Court Registry building on M.R. Kiani Road. — White Star/File

KARACHI: Observing that the conversion of cantonment land into private land in the metropolis was apparently in violation of laws as well as various provisions of the Constitution, the Supreme Court on Wednesday summoned the defence secretary and attorney general of Pakistan for Nov 26 (tomorrow).

A three-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed also put the chief executive officers (CEOs) of all the cantonment boards in Karachi as well as the Sindh advocate general on notice.

While dictating the order during Wednesday’s proceedings at the apex court’s Karachi registry, the CJP asked the attorney general to explain as to how park/amenity land in the cantonment areas of the city was being used for commercial activities.

The land allotted to the Pakistan Army, Navy and Air Force and meant for defence purposes has progressively been used or allotted /leased / transferred by the cantonment authorities to the personnel of armed forces for their own personal use, housing societies, commercial buildings and other purposes, he added.

Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan wonders how housing societies are being established on land allotted for defence purposes

The CJP further said that the cantonment land had been allotted / leased out by the federal and provincial governments for cantonment purposes and the very nature of the land cannot be changed by giving personal statue.

He stated that the conversion of cantonment land into private land seems to be in direct contravention of Cantonment Act 1924, Cantonment Land Rules 1937 and various constitutional provisions and this issue needed to be heard and decided by this court.

The bench also comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan and Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed was informed that there were encroachments on public spaces in the jurisdiction of cantonment boards and commercial buildings and housing societies on the land meant for cantonment purposes in different areas of the city.

The bench expressed resentment over the director, cantonment and military land, Karachi region, Adil Rafi Siddiqui over such activities within the jurisdiction of cantonment boards and also sought a report from him about a wall being built on the premises of park in Defence Housing Authority Phase-I.

Justice Ashan said that how the land meant for defence installations could be used for residential and other profitable purposes, adding that the status of such land cannot be changed.

He also asked the cantonment official under which law housing societies were being established and land of defence installations was being converted for other purposes.

Plea against commercial use of Askari Park

The bench also issued notices to the Karachi administrator, commander engineer, Corps-V, and others on an application against using the Askari Park near old Sabzi Mandi for commercial purposes.

The bench had issued notices to respondents on the last hearing, but it was informed that nobody appeared from military authorities on Wednesday.

Earlier, an applicant had submitted that the land of park belonged to the KMC and an agreement for adoption of such land was made between the then city district government Karachi and the military authorities in 2005 for development and maintenance of the park.

However, the applicant argued that wedding halls and other commercial activities were being carried out on the premises of the park.

Anger at provincial authorities

The Supreme Court on Wednesday came down hard on the provincial authorities over sudden transfers of officials posted on key positions and warned to pass an order if situation not changed.

The bench observed that it had been issuing various directives to the Karachi commissioner and other officials, but they were swiftly transferred while the director general of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA) was also removed hardly a few months after his appointment and he got a stay order from the high court.

The CJP asked the advocate general that the bench was restraining itself from interfering in the affairs of provincial authorities but if such practice continued the judges would have to pass an appropriate order in this regard.

The CJP said this when KDA chief submitted that his wife, also severing in garde-20 in Sindh, was forced to “sit at home”.

The bench directed the DG to take measurers for restoration of all parks/playgrounds within the jurisdiction of the KDA after removing encroachments.

It further said that encroachments around Jam Sadiq Bridge in Korangi and on an amenity plot meant for park in Korangi-5 must also be removed.

The DG submitted that he was aware of such illegal encroachments on public spaces and would remove the same and restore the land for the purpose it meant.

Parks of KMC

The bench said that Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab also assured it that he would take action to clear parks, playgrounds and public spaces and maintain them properly.

It was also pointed out during proceedings that a supra body may be formed to monitor all the parks of the city and Mr Wahab assured the bench that he would place this issue before the cabinet for legislation.

Amber Alibhoi of Shehri-Citizens for a Better Environment informed the bench that there were 24 places in the city meant for parks which were being used as dumping sites.

The CJP asked the administrator to take immediate steps for restoration of such land while all other parks must be properly developed and maintained and sought a compliance report in two weeks.

The administrator was asked about the restoration of four natural lakes of the city including Jheel Park and deplored that constructions had been made on such lands including a private school.

The advocate general submitted that such lakes had been dried up as the water level had gone down. However, the administrator submitted that he would consult technical experts and try to restore such lakes.

Mr Wahab was of the view that the city council during the tenure of former Karachi mayors Naimatullah Khan and Mustafa Kamal had passed resolutions for commercialisation of many roads of the city and thereafter, rapid commercialization had been started across the city.

However, a lawyer also pointed out that the provincial government had also commercialized several thoroughfares in 2010 and 2016.

Gutter Baghicha

The bench ruled that a portion of around 200 acre at the Gutter Baghicha Park was illegally allotted to the KMC Officers Housing Society in 1993 and the same was liable to be cancelled.

It further said that the park was existed even before partition and meant for amenity purposes and unfortunately the KMC, which was required to build a park there, allotted the land to its officers for a housing society, which was illegal.

It was informed that the allotment was made but no construction had so far been made.

Published in Dawn, November 25th, 2021


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