KARACHI: The Sindh High Court on Wednesday issued a notice to the defence secretary in a petition challenging a set of notifications for making various villages part of manoeuvres and field firing range in Dhabeji.

Around 115 petitioners approached the SHC stating that their goths had been affected due to the notifications issued by the provincial and federal governments allowing land for manoeuvres and field firing purposes.

A two-judge bench headed by Justice Syed Hasan Azhar Rizvi issued notice to the defence secretary defence with a direction to file comments.

The military state officer in his comments stated that 50,600 acres at Dhabeji was reserved for ministry of defence and the same had been notified for the use of military authorities for the purpose of field firing range and manoeuvres exercises through a notification issued in March 2004.

Out of 50,600 acres, 13,500 acres had been transferred by the Sindh government without any compensation in favour of ministry of defence for defence purposes and mutation was also carried out by the revenue authorities, he maintained.

He further submitted that the claim of the petitioners was without legal and lawful title documents and the land in dispute vested in the federal government and exercising jurisdiction over it by the Sindh government or any other department without prior permission of federal government/ministry of defence was illegal.

However, the deputy and assistant commissioners of Malir and Bin Qasim in their report stated that the Dhabeji field firing rang authorities have installed pillars around an area of 50,000 to 51,000 acres on the basis of claim of the defence ministry and various sanctioned villages, Kabuli land, graveyards and pounds were located within the area in question.

The report further stated that initially, Sindh land utilisation department had leased out an area of 13,500 acres in 1993 for 99 years in favour of defence ministry for establishment of Dhabeji field firing range subject to payment of cost and in 2000 on the instruction of the Sindh governor the land in question was authorised to be utilised free of cost and the same will remain the property of the Sindh government.

It maintained that the provincial government had only leased out 13,500 acres in Deh Dhandho & Deh Kotirero in favour of defence ministry, which did not include villages, Kabuli land and graveyards.

The mukhtiarkar Malir in his report stated that the petitioners were residing in 15 villages, which had been affected by the impugned notifications.

The petitioners argued that they were residing in these goths since their ancestors going back to year 1820 and their possessory rights had been acknowledged from time to time as being inhabitants of goth and some of them were granted 30-year lease while the Sindh government had also issued a notification approving/regularising the goths of the petitioners.

However, they said that now, they were not allowed to cultivate the agriculture land and construction of houses.

The petitioners challenged the notifications for allowing residential and dwelling place to be used as manoeuvres and field firing range and stated that it could not be done in terms of Section 10 of the Manoeuvres, Field Firing and Artillery Practice Act, 1938.

They pleaded to declare that the impugned notifications were issued without following the procedure laid down in the Act, 1938, Colonisation Act, 1972 and Acquisition Act, 1894.

Published in Dawn, January 27th, 2022

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