ISLAMABAD: The land in Katchi Abadis cannot be used for personal enrichment by somehow acquiring possession and then handing over the possession to a purported tenant, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

“It would be against public policy if money is permitted to be made at the expense of the landowner by exploiting the landless and then claiming ownership rights emanating from having had possession of such land,” observed Justice Qazi Faez Isa in his judgement.

The observation came on an appeal by Syed Jamil Ahmed against an Aug 13, 2018, order of the Sindh High Court (SHC). A two-judge bench, consisting of Justice Isa and Justice Yahya Afridi, heard the appeal.

Jamil Ahmed was granted lease of a plot in Karachi measuring 204.06 square yards on Aug 31, 1989, by the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC). In addition to that plot, the appellant was supposed to have been leased a piece of land measuring 40.56 square yards. But the land had already been granted to Muhammad Salam on May 21, 1985.

Jamil Ahmed, who was represented by Shahab Sarki, argued during the hearing that the Sindh High Court had set aside the judgement of an appellate court and restored the decision of the trial court to dismiss the suit, primarily on the ground of limitation.

The appellant had sought the same relief in a suit filed by him in 1991, but it was dismissed on account of non-prosecution, the judgement said.

The suit, which is the subject matter of this case, was filed in 1995 and was dismissed as it was time-barred, the apex court said, adding that the counsel was not able to satisfy the court that the suit seeking a declaration and cancellation of a lease granted in 1985 could be filed 10 years later.

The suit was clearly time-barred and the judgements of the trial court and the SHC were correct, the Supreme Court said.

But Justice Isa observed that the appellant had no legal ground in terms of Section 42 of the Specific Relief Act (SRA) 1877 and his suit, seeking a declaration about his ownership of the plot that was in possession of Muhammad Salam, was not maintainable.

According to Section 42 of the SRA, this provision can be invoked only if any right, title and interest of a plaintiff in any property is denied. “The appeal is dismissed,” the judgement said.

The appellant could not claim entitlement to a plot which was not in his possession. The leases granted by the KMC’s directorate of Katchi Abadies to Muhammad Salam and the appellant were both titled “Lease for plot by regularisation of unauthorised possession”, the judgement said.

Persons in unauthorised possession of land (not owned by them) and which formed part of a declared Katchi Abadi were granted ownership rights to the land in their possession by the KMC.

“The appellant was not in possession of the land in respect of which Salam was granted lease. The appellant contended that since Salam was his tenant, he should not have been granted the lease,” the judgement said.

Even if it be assumed that Salam was the appellant’s tenant, the latter cannot claim leasehold rights on the basis of the purported tenancy in respect of land situated in a declared Katchi Abadi, according to the apex court.

The law regularising Katchi Abadis is meant to accommodate the landless, but Jamil Ahmed, the appellant, based his claim to the land which admittedly was not owned by him nor was in his possession, it said.

According to the judgement, the land in Katchi Abadis cannot be used for personal enrichment by somehow acquiring possession of it and then handing over its possession to a purported tenant.

Published in Dawn, January 21st, 2022

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