KARACHI: The Supreme Court on Friday lashed out at the defence secretary over commercial activities and construction of housing societies on cantonment land and summoned him along with a report carrying details of decisions of all services chiefs on the matter.

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Justice Gulzar Ahmed, the three-member bench took up the matter pertaining to alleged conversion of cantonment land in violation of relevant laws for hearing.

SC seeks report on decisions of all services chiefs on the matter

While replying to a query of the bench that also comprised Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed, Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain said such land was allotted for the purpose of defence strategic objectives. He contended that there were policies, rules and regulations for cantonment and military land when the apex court confronted him how housing societies had been made on such land.

At this juncture, Justice Amin said such policies were under the command of this court while the CJP remarked that cinema halls, wedding halls and other commercial activities were also being carried out on cantonment land and there was no such provision in the Constitution.

The chief justice said such activities needed to be stopped, land retrieved and used for defence purpose. He then asked the secretary how he was going to roll these things back.

The secretary said that he would make efforts in this regard and requested the court for some time. At this point, the CJP told the secretary that he was sitting in Islamabad whereas majors and colonels in the financial capital were acting like kings and could do anything despite court orders.

The bench observed they were making mockery of court orders passed about commercialisation of the land meant for defence purposes.

Justice Ashan asked retired Lt Gen Hussain that he would have to come up with a proper strategy and time frame to fix such issues.

The defence secretary apprised the bench that the air force, navy and army chiefs had decided not to allow further commercial activities on cantonment land. The CJP asked him that all the cantonment boards must also be informed about such decisions. He also directed him to appear along with a report as well as copies of decisions/minutes of meetings made by the armed forces chiefs about cantonment land.

The chief justice remarked that commercial and residential activities were being carried out at the Masroor Base, Cantonment Board Faisal and in the jurisdictions of other cantonment boards of the city while the Korangi Creek Airbase has almost been closed.

All Askari housing societies had also been built on cantonment lands in the metropolis, he observed.

The court also directed the defence secretary to consult the attorney general, who did not turn up on Friday, and appear in person before the bench in Islamabad on Tuesday.

Earlier on Wednesday, the apex court observed that the conversion of cantonment land into private land in Karachi seemed to be contrary to very mandate of the Cantonment Act, 1924 and the Land Administration Control Rules, 1937 and also was in violation of various provisions of the Constitution and summoned the defence secretary and attorney general for Nov 26. “If any law or rule is made contrary to such mandate, the same will be ultra virus the act and the constitution and therefore, this aspect needs to be heard and decided by this court,” the bench observed.

It said the land meant for cantonment purposes were progressively being used rather allotted, leased and transferred by the cantonment authorities to the personnel of armed forces for their own personal use (i.e. construction of houses, commercial buildings and other related things).

Published in Dawn, November 27th, 2021

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