IT is a double blow within a matter of days. The Islamabad High Court’s order last week to demolish a navy golf course in the capital has come on the heels of the same court ordering two Pakistan Navy projects, including farmhouses and a sailing club to be similarly demolished. These are bold and historic decisions in that they hold powerful entities accountable for abusing their authority and violating land use laws.
In the more recent golf course case, the court found it had illegally been built in a protected park area and that the navy had encroached upon state land without lawful authority and jurisdiction. It has ordered the site sealed and its possession handed over to CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board. Unless it can be utilised for an environmentally-friendly activity, the golf course is to be demolished within four weeks. The court also ordered the CDA chairman to probe the construction of Monal and other restaurants located on national park land.
If these orders are implemented, it will send an important message to privileged segments of society. Too often, we have seen similar directives about the illegal use of land in Karachi, in which wedding halls and shopping malls have been set up on land allotted for specific military use. But these orders are not complied with and there is no follow-through. Why is it that compliance is only ensured where middle- and lower-income classes are affected?
In the recent Nasla Tower case, for instance, the apex court had expressed its displeasure with the Karachi commissioner for not completing the demolition process in time. To cite another example, when it came to razing Empress Market shops, also ordered by the apex court, the authorities moved with alacrity. The reality is that the rules are different for those that have influence and connections, as compared to those that do not.
In cases where the owners and financiers of illegally constructed property and recreation projects are powerful, court orders are ignored, delayed or simply forgotten. But this leeway is not extended to projects where ‘ordinary’ members of the populace have a stake. It is a sorry reflection of the authorities’ inability or lack of willingness to implement court orders that ruffle elite feathers. The IHC directive to demolish the navy projects is a test case for the Islamabad administration to prove if a ‘naya’ Pakistan is at all possible.
Published in Dawn, January 17th, 2022