ISLAMABAD: Days after it declared two Pakistan Navy projects built on protected land illegal, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Tuesday directed civic agencies to seal the sprawling naval golf course located in the Margalla Hills National Park area, and unless an environmentally-friendly use can be found for it, ordered its demolition within four weeks.
The court rejected the military’s claim on over 8,000 acres of national park land and ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to seal the scenic Monal restaurant. It also asked the Ministry of Defence to ensure that the amount received as rent is deposited in the exchequer.
The court directed the defence secretary to ascertain which officials were responsible for the construction of the golf course, while the CDA chairman was ordered to probe the construction of Monal and other restaurants located on national park land.
The order was issued by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah in a case based on a petition filed by environmentalist Professor Zahid Baig Mirza and an appeal moved by the Monal Group against the order of a civil court related to the lease of its restaurant at Pir Sohawa.
Chief Justice Minallah rejects military’s ownership claim, orders recovery of all rent paid by Monal restaurant
On Jan 7, the court had ruled the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club and farm houses “trespassed on the land situated on the embankment of Rawal Lake” and ordered them to be razed.
Referring to the navy’s golf course, known as Margalla Greens Golf Club, the court observed: “Pakistan Navy has encroached upon state land, including the notified area of the national park by illegally establishing a golf course outside the allocated Sector E-8. Construction on the encroached land and establishing a golf course was and continues to be illegal, without lawful authority and jurisdiction.”
When Justice Minallah quizzed Defence Secretary retired Lt Gen Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain on the encroachment of national park land by Pakistan Navy, he said the Survey of Pakistan and other civic bodies had begun the process of demarcating national park land, adding that the process would be completed in a couple of months.
In its order, the court said the golf course “shall forthwith be sealed and its possession handed over to CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB)”, adding that all construction on the encroached land shall be demolished within four weeks, unless it can be utilised for an environmentally-friendly activity.
The court also directed the CDA and IWMB to work together to restore the land, currently being utilised as a golf course, to its former state as part of the national park.
The defence secretary has been asked to conduct a forensic audit through the Auditor General of Pakistan to ascertain the loss caused to the exchequer, and the amount shall be recovered from the officials found responsible for the unauthorised construction of the gold course.
The IHC chief justice observed that the armed forces, being prestigious institutions, should not become controversial as this was not in the public interest.
CDA Chairman Amir Ali Ahmed told the court that in addition to the armed forces, several government institutions had encroached upon the state land. He said a summary has been tabled before the federal cabinet to end the encroachment of state land and its retrieval from government departments.
The dispute between the CDA and the restaurant emerged after the latter started paying rent to the General Headquarters (GHQ) instead of the civic agency as the directorate claimed ownership of the land on the basis of a notification from the year 1912.
“The claim of Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate of Pakistan Army, regarding 8,068 acres of land in the notified national park area is in violation of the Ordinance of 1979, read with the Ordinance of 1960, and the [Islamabad] Master Plan,” the court declared.
It ruled the federal government did not have jurisdiction to allow the directorate to use the land which was located in a national park area.
According to the court order, the directorate had no jurisdiction or authority to own, use or keep in possession any land within the notified national park area.
The CDA had issued a notice to the restaurant in 2021, after their lease expired. However, the Monal Group challenged the CDA notice, saying that they were regularly paying rent to the army directorate.
However, the court ruled that the directorate had no jurisdiction or authority to execute an agreement with Monal Restaurant and declared that the rent received by it was also without lawful authority and jurisdiction.
It directed the defence secretary to ensure that the rent received by the directorate was recovered and deposited in the exchequer within 60 days.
The court subsequently ordered that “CDA and the IWMB shall forthwith take over possession of Monal Restaurant and thereafter seal its premises subject to allowing its owner/management to take out its property”.
It also directed the CDA chairman to hold an inquiry and identify the officials responsible for the construction of Monal Restaurant and other buildings in a protected area.
At the last hearing, the IHC chief justice had asked Additional Attorney General Qasim Wadud to explain how the armed forces could collect rent from a restaurant.
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Mr Wadud referred to a notification from 1912 regarding the allocation of 8,068 acres of land to the military’s veterinary and farms directorate, claiming that the Ministry of Defence was the lawful owner of this land.
But Justice Minallah reminded him that following the promulgation of the CDA Ordinance, 1960 and the Martial Law Regulations of 1979, which declared the Margalla Hills a protected area, the notification of 1912 had become infructuous, adding that the land now belonged to the federal government.
Published in Dawn, January 12th, 2022