SC takes back directives to remove Wahab as Karachi administrator after 'unconditional' apology

Published December 27, 2021
Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court's Karachi registry on Monday. — DawnNewsTV
Karachi Administrator Murtaza Wahab speaks to reporters outside the Supreme Court's Karachi registry on Monday. — DawnNewsTV

The Supreme Court on Monday took back its directions to Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah, issued earlier in the day, to remove Murtaza Wahab as Karachi administrator after he tendered an "unconditional" apology.

The court directed that the post of administrator be "kept away from politics" and instructed Wahab to fulfil his responsibilities while remaining above "political affiliation and pressure".

Earlier, a two-member bench comprising Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin issued a directive for Wahab's removal after an exchange with him while hearing numerous important matters pertaining to unauthorised and illegal construction, encroachments of amenity plots, conversion of residential properties into commercial ones and the issue of two private hospitals allegedly running their health facilities on amenity plots at the apex court's Karachi registry.

A petition filed in 2014 seeking possession of Hindu Gymkhana, a matter about Nasla Tower's demolition, applications about rehabilitation of affectees dislocated due to the anti-encroachment drive in Karachi and the cases regarding the Karachi Circular Railway were fixed for hearing.

There are 118 civil miscellaneous applications (CMAs) filed to either become interveners or impleading parties in the main petition filed by former city Nazim Naimatullah Khan in 2010, seeking SC's intervention to get the amenity plots vacated from 'land mafia and political parties' in the city.

Attorney General of Pakistan Khalid Jawed Khan, Advocate General of Sindh Salman Talib Ud Din, Karachi Commissioner Iqbal Memon, Wahab and senior Director of the anti-encroachment department Bashir Siddiqui were present during today's hearing.

During the hearing of a matter related to the Gutter Baghicha park, Justice Amin, while addressing Wahab remarked, "These are state lands [and] not your personal property. [You will] have to return them. If we don't take them [back] then someone else will. You will return the lands," Justice Amin thundered.

"Should we leave the government?" Wahab questioned, saying that "major observations are" made about the provincial government by the court.

"Silence yourself mister, what are you saying? Don't do politics here," the chief justice reprimanded the administrator.

"Get out from here. We will fire you right now. Are you an administrator or a political leader?" Justice Gulzar questioned. He remarked that an administrator was appointed to serve the people in an impartial manner and the position was not meant to be used for politics.

"The administrator, prima facie, failed to perform his duties. The administrator's behaviour is that of political leaders [and] not of serving the citizens," the chief justice remarked.

The court ordered Wahab's immediate removal and directed the Sindh chief minister to appoint an "impartial and competent" person in his place.

In October this year, the Supreme Court had directed the Karachi administrator to remove encroachments on the premises of the Gutter Baghicha park and restore it to its original shape and to properly maintain it for public.

The apex court had further ordered him to ensure that all playgrounds for children must be restored after immediate removal of encroachments and steps be taken to ensure that such areas were not encroached upon again.

"Go and transfer Bin Qasim park [and] Hill park in your name. Take Frere [Hall] park too. How many parks are there in Karachi? Finish them now. Distribute the few remaining parks among your officers as well," the chief justice berated Wahab during the hearing today.

"Is Karachi your personal property?" he questioned.

Meanwhile, Justice Amin said: "All of this is a trust with you. The state will take all these lands. If not through us then through someone else."

The chief justice said who could have conceived there would be construction on plots meant for welfare purposes, remarking: "Welfare plots will remain for welfare [purposes] till the end of times."

"The time has come to finish all KMC (Karachi Metropolitan Corporation) societies. The KMC people thought 'sell everything at our own will'. A lot of wealth was made by selling welfare plots," the chief justice said.

He then directed Wahab to restore all parks.

Case sought against officials who approved Nasla Tower plan

Earlier today, the court ordered authorities to register a case against officials involved in approving the building plan of the 15-storey Nasla Tower in Karachi, and directed that departmental and criminal proceedings be initiated.

AGP Khan informed the court that steps had not been taken yet to provide compensation to the affectees of Nasla Tower and requested the Supreme Court to ensure the same.

Subsequently, the court ordered the seizure of 780 square yards of the land Nasla Tower was constructed upon and directed the Sindh High Court's (SHC) official assignee to stop its sale.

At the outset of the hearing, Commissioner Iqbal Memon informed the court that five of the building's floors had been demolished and 400 labourers were working on the task. "Four hundred people can not manage to demolish a single building?" questioned the chief justice.

The commissioner responded that the building's internal structure had been demolised and only the exterior could be seen.

The chief justice then questioned the commissioner about mentioning that the Sindh Building Control Authority (SBCA) obstructed the demolition work in a report that he submitted to the apex court.

"We have stopped people in a civilised manner. Abad (Association of Builders and Developers of Pakistan) also protested [and] we dealt peacefully [with them]," the commissioner said.

"[Why] have you written [that] a Samaa TV reporter is interfering?" Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin asked.

The commissioner reiterated that affairs were being dealt with in a peaceful manner and people were stopped from approaching the building by imposing Section 144.

"The problem is that non-state actors are activated due to the weakness of the state. The bottom line is that the building is still standing," Justice Amin said.

"Such a building is torn down in one hour in the world. What are you people doing?" the chief justice asked.

Justice Amin said that if anyone was interfering then it would amount to contempt of court.

"We did not obstruct. I challenge the report," the SBCA director general said and read the report out loud on the court's instruction.

The chief justice said he was giving the DG a contempt notice and told him to respond to it while Justice Amin remarked that no obstacle would be tolerated in the implementation of a court order.

"According to the report, the SBCA also demanded bribe from the contractor," the chief justice noted.

The court directed the DG Anti-Corruption Establishment (ACE) to register a case against the DG SBCA and submit a report after conducting legal proceedings and investigation.

The city commissioner was also directed to use all government resources and complete Nasla Tower's demolition within a week.

Askari Park to be handed over to KMC in 2 weeks

While hearing an application against alleged commercial activities on premises of Askari Park, the Supreme Court directed that the park be handed over to the KMC in two weeks.

In a hearing on Nov 25, the apex court had 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.

On Monday, counsel for Corps-V Lieutenant Colonel Zubair said a 99-year agreement had been signed for use of the park. Justice Amin directed that the land be returned to its original owner.

"You are sacrificing your lives for the country [and] we value that. Return the land [to the original owner]," Justice Amin said.

"You were given the land so no one could occupy it," the chief justice remarked, adding that the army had been entrusted with the protection of the entire country.

He further observed that 38 shops and a wedding hall had been constructed on the land.

Addressing the Corps-V counsel, the top judge said he was submitting a report that had previously been withdrawn by the defence secretary. "You have admitted yourself that a wedding hall is operational on the premises. Thirty-eight shops have been built despite your presence."

The counsel responded that Corps-V did not have any relation to the shops and wedding hall.

Subsequently, the court directed that Askari Park be handed over to the KMC administrator within two weeks to be "used for the public". It directed the municipal corporation to demolish the wedding hall and shops and install its own rides in the park.

Jheel Park

The Supreme Court also heard a case related to encroachments on and around Jheel Park and issued notices to the administration of a mosque, allegedly built on encroached land, and the Auqaf department, directing them to appear in court tomorrow.

The apex court directed all encroachments, including shops and the Dilkusha Club, to be removed.

The chief justice observed that there used to be a park on the land. A counsel for the Pakistan Employees Cooperative Housing Society (PECHS) informed the court that a mosque had also been constructed on that land, adding that it became a law and order problem whenever it was attempted to remove the encroachments.

At this, Justice Amin remarked that it was very easy to encroach on land these days either by building a mosque or a grave. "Can prayers be offered on a mosque constructed on encroached land?" he questioned.

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