THE Islamabad High Court has in a landmark judgement declared a navy club built on public land in the federal capital as illegal and ordered its demolition. The court has also ordered criminal proceedings against a former naval chief for authorising the project.
This judgement has set an important precedent in a country that continues to endure the menace of land-grabbing both by powerful mafias as well government organisations. The construction of the club by the navy near Rawal Lake is an instance of brazen misuse of authority validated dubiously by relevant civic agencies despite the fact that it is located in a protected national park area. The Islamabad High Court has done well to apply the force of law on those who have often considered themselves above it.
The problem is unfortunately widespread and involves the highest and mightiest in the land. The regularisation of illegal constructions in Banigala and the Grand Hyatt, both in Islamabad, are well-known examples of this phenomenon. In Lahore, the Railways Golf Club case gained prominence because of the involvement of senior military officers. In Karachi too, there are various instances of unauthorised conversion of land meant for defence purposes into shopping malls and other commercial enterprises.
Such violations of the law are often validated by relevant organisations either due to corrupt practices or pressure. In many cases, the result is that citizens are deprived of access to facilities that are theirs by right. These illegal practices are so deeply entrenched within our system and are so well protected by powerful elements within the state that very few have dared challenge them. It is therefore heartening to see the courts upholding the majesty of the law over those who need to respect it the most.
The chief justice of Pakistan has been taking notice of such issues in his tenure but sadly most of the action seems to have been ordered against ‘ordinary’ people and not against those that occupy the citadels of power.
Unless the mighty are held to account — as is the case in the IHC judgement — they will continue to flout the law of the land for their vested interests. It is therefore important that the navy club issue is taken to its logical conclusion in light of the court order. The illegal premises should be demolished, all those responsible for facilitating this enterprise should be identified and punished and a clear precedent set for adventurism of this kind in the future. The judiciary should also take cognizance of blatant land grabs by official organisations and ensure that they vacate the area they have illegally occupied so the public land can revert to its rightful usage. This would ensure that civic agencies that usually become conduits for such illegal actions also stand warned not to buckle under official pressure and uphold the law without compromise.
Published in Dawn, January 10th, 2022