IHC orders demolition of navy’s farmhouses, sailing club in capital

Published January 8, 2022
A file view of the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club in Islamabad. — Photo via Twitter
A file view of the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club in Islamabad. — Photo via Twitter

• Ex-naval chief among officials facing criminal proceedings
• Implementation commission to assess environmental damage
• Court says commercial, real estate ventures by armed forces ‘definitely not in public interest’

ISLAMABAD: Declaring the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club and farmhouses constructed on the national park land illegal, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ordered their demolition and issued directions to initiate criminal proceedings against former naval chief Zafar Mehmud Abbasi and other officials for approving the illegal constructions.

In a 45-page judgement, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to take over the naval farmhouses, saying that navy had “trespassed on the land situated on the embankment of Rawal Lake, and that too in a protected national park area”.

It noted that the club building “shall not be regularized in any manner for having been illegally constructed in an ecologically sensitive area in violation of the mandatory provisions.”

The court also declared that the occupation of the land was “illegal, without lawful authority and jurisdiction”.

The navy has been ordered to cease all its activities on Rawal Lake and hand over the land to the Small Dams Organisation, while the court ordered the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to restore the natural habitat in the lake’s surroundings.

The court also appointed environmental law expert Dr Pervaiz Hassan as a one-person Implementation Commission to give effect to the Environment Commission’s recommendations regarding Rawal Lake and to investigate the environmental damage caused.

In addition, the auditor general has been directed to “conduct a forensic audit of PN Farms and Sailing Club to ascertain the loss caused to the exchequer, which shall be recovered from the officers found responsible for committing illegalities in relation to the respective ventures.”

In its verdict, the court noted that “the engagement of the armed forces in an activity which is a transgression from the constitutional mandate e.g. undertaking commercial or real estate ventures etc. is definitely not in the public interest. Its coercive power, strength and discipline can only be used for the restricted functions prescribed under the Constitution rather than using these characteristics to enforce its will on the people that created it.”

“Engaging in such undertakings, on the one hand, compromises the professionalism, integrity, cohesion of the Armed Forces while on the other it weakens the civilian institutions and becomes a cause for distraction from the core function. It damages the relationship of the Armed Forces with the people and the society,” the verdict noted.

The verdict was issued on a petition filed in the year 2020 by a citizen against the construction of the navy club and denial of citizens’ access to the lake.

The club was first sealed by the court in July 2020 after CDA and navy failed to provide a plausible justification for the construction of such a structure on the banks of a water reservoir. However, non-commercial activities were later allowed at the facility.

In a written response in Aug 2020, former naval chief Zafar Mehmud Abbasi had claimed that the facility on the banks of Rawal Lake was “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise”, maintaining that it a sports facility that had been established on the federal government’s directive after obtaining approval of environmental experts.

In the verdict, the IHC chief justice noted that the two ventures, PN Farms and the PN Sailing Club were directly or indirectly undertaken by the navy illegally and executed in violation of the enforced law. Criticising the role of civic agencies such as CDA and the Environmental Protection Agency , the judgement noted: “The relevant authorities and regulators looked the other way and felt satisfied with the issuance of notices as a mere formality.”

“The Secretary, Cabinet Division shall place the copies of this judgment before the worthy Prime Minister and members of the Cabinet i.e. the Federal Government. The latter shall take measures for ensuring restoration of rule of law and strict implementation of the enforced laws within the 1400 square mile area of the Islamabad Capital Territory”, the court order stated.

The court termed it an irony of fate that “the chief of naval staff and one of the branches of the armed forces i.e. the Pakistan Navy were involved in violating the enforced laws and transgressions from the mandate prescribed under the supreme law of the country, the Constitution”.

“The most disturbing factor was the conflict created by one of the branches of the Armed Forces with the society and its citizens. Any such conflict is intolerable in a society governed under the Constitution,” the order said.

According to the verdict, “The execution of the two ventures, PN Farms and the Sailing Club, is a classic example of the non- existence of rule of law.”

Through the order, the court declared that the mutation of land in the name of an office of the headquarters of the Pakistan Navy was unconstitutional, illegal and in violation of the law adding that its ownership of the land would be dealt with by the federal government as mandated under Article 173 of the Constitution.

The IHC chief justice also declared the No-Objection Certificate (NoC) issued for construction within the naval headquarters land as illegal and directed CDA to take over the land covered under the purported NOC.

The verdict also singles out the then-naval chief, Admiral (retired) Zafar Mehmud Abbasi, saying that he “violated his oath and transgressed his constitutional duty by inaugurating an illegal building on encroached land in violation of the Act of 1997 and the Ordinance of 1960… [Admiral Abbasi and] other officers involved in the illegal construction and inauguration of the sailing club have made themselves liable to criminal proceedings.”

The order directed competent authorities to ensure that criminal proceedings are initiated against them forthwith, saying “The federal government shall proceed against Admiral Zafar Mehmud Abbasi under the Ordinance of 1961 for acts and omissions amounting to misconduct on his part.”

Published in Dawn, January 8th, 2022

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