'Are wedding halls and cinemas for defence?' CJP grills govt official over military land's commerical use

Published November 26, 2021
A photo of Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed. — APP/File
A photo of Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed. — APP/File

Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed on Friday grilled the defence secretary over commercial use of military land, asking whether structures like cinemas and wedding halls were built for defence purposes.

A three-judge bench headed by the chief justice and comprising Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan was hearing the issue of military lands being used for commercial purposes at the Supreme Court's Karachi registry.

The CJP questioned Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain about the activities being conducted on military lands. "This land was given to you for strategic and defence [purposes and yet] you have started commercial activities on it," he said.

"Were wedding halls, cinemas and housing societies built for defence purposes?" CJP Ahmed asked.

He remarked that all Askari housing projects had been built on cantonment lands.

"We have decided that this will not happen again," the defence secretary said, adding that the construction of housing societies and commercial use of military land would be checked and stopped.

At this, Justice Amin asked Hussain how that would be made possible and where the process would start. The judge asked him to provide a written explanation.

The chief justice commented that colonels and majors were acting like kings. "What the colonels and majors desire, happens," he said.

"Go and tell all the chiefs [of the armed forces] that the land meant for defence purposes will not be used for commercial objectives. Go to all the military cantonments and tell them the land will be used only for strategic purposes," CJP Ahmed ordered the defence secretary.

He also said that commercial activities were underway at Masroor Base and Faisal Base and tall buildings had been erected when orders were given to remove signboards.

The bench asked Hussain whether he had a written report regarding the matter, at which the secretary requested more time to submit the same.

The court adjourned the hearing until November 30, saying it would take place in Islamabad and also ordered that a written report be submitted.

While hearing the case on Wednesday, the chief justice had stated that the conversion of cantonment land into private land seemed to be in direct contravention of the Cantonment Act, 1924, Cantonment Land Rules, 1937, and various constitutional provisions and the issue needed to be heard and decided by the court.

The bench had expressed resentment over 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 a park in Defence Housing Authority Phase-I.

Hearing on Nasla Tower, Tejori Heights

While conducting hearings on other cases, the chief justice asked Karachi Commissioner Muhammad Iqbal Memon till when the demolition of Karachi's Nasla Tower would be completed. Memon replied that no timeframe could be provided and that 200 labourers were working on the project.

The CJP told him to double the labour force and ordered the tower to be demolished within a week and a report to be submitted.

Updates were also provided to the bench about progress in the demolition of the Tejori Heights tower, with a legal representative saying that 60 to 65 per cent of the building had been demolished.

He also told the court that files had been recovered from the building's offices and work was underway on providing compensation to the affectees.

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