• Notes lack of transparency, conflict of interest in award of plots
• FGEHA ordered to develop housing scheme for general public

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) ruled on Thursday that the allotment of plots on subsidised rates to top judges, lawyers and bureaucrats was illegal, and ordered the federal government’s real estate entity to initiate housing schemes for the general public.

An IHC division bench consisting of Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani issued the landmark judgement on identical petitions related to the allotment of plots by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) in sectors F-14 and F-15 of Islamabad.

The verdict declared the FGEHA project in both sectors as well as the upcoming sectors F-12 and G-12 as illegal.

As per the judgement, the allotment of plots on subsidised rates had cost the public exchequer around Rs1 trillion in losses.

The FGEHA conducted balloting on Aug 17, 2021, for plots in sectors F-14 and F-15, but the verdict highlighted anomalies in the registration process as well.

“Even the selection made from about 135,000 registered members in the second membership drive lacked transparency,” it noted.

“Surprisingly, the list of successful beneficiaries posted on the website included senior members of the bureaucracy and serving and retired judges of the superior judiciary. Virtually every judge of the district judiciary of Islamabad was amongst the beneficiaries. Ironically, they included judicial officers who were kept under observation either for incompetence or having questionable repute. It also included those judicial officers who were dismissed from service pursuant to disciplinary proceedings or who had opted to resign,” the court order stated.

“It [has] become obvious that the policy formulated by the FGEHA and the federal government, rather than [serve] the public interest, was in violation of the fundamental rights of the people at large.”

The court verdict noted that FGEHA board members even allotted plots to themselves.

The judges of the superior judiciary who were allotted two one-kanal plots each in the FGEHA balloting included incumbent Chief Justice of Pakistan Umar Ata Bandial, former chief justices Gulzar Ahmed, Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry and Anwar Zaheer Jamali, Justice Amir Hani Muslim, Justice Riaz Ahmed Khan, Justice Abdul Latif Khan, Justice Malik Manzoor Hussain, Justice Sheikh Najamul Hassan, Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan, Justice Jalaluddin, Justice Asadullah Khan, Justice Irshad Qaiser, Justice Mohammad Daud Khan, Justice Yar Mohammad, Justice Zaheer Ahmed Shahwani, Justice Nisar Hussain Khan, Justice Noorul Haq N. Qureshi, Justice Sahib Khan, Justice Abdul Sami Khan, Justice Mohammad Younas Khan, Justice Mushir Alam, Justice Ali Akbar Qureshi, Justice Ashraf Jahan, Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed, Justice Mohammad Ghazanfar Khan, Justice Ikramullah, Justice Aminuddin Khan, Justice Lal Jan Khattak, Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan, Justice Ishaq Khan, Justice Azam Khan, Justice Said Maroof Khan, Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, Justice Mehmood Akhtar Shahid Siddiqui, Justice Sarmad Jalal Usmani, Justice Ijaz Ahmed Chaudhry, Justice Mohammad Athar Saeed, Justice Dost Mohammad Khan, Justice Sajjad Ali Shah and Justice Syed Zahid Hussain. Justice Faisal Arab, Justice Manzoor Ahmed Malik, Justice Iqbal Hameedur Rehman, Justice Mazhar Alam Khan Miankhel, Justice Sardar Tariq Masood, Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Maqbool Baqir.

Deliberating on the revised policy for allotment of plots, where the FGEHA abolished a quota for lawyers and journalists, but retained the quota of the judiciary, the division bench questioned the inclusion of Supreme Court, IHC and district judiciary among the entitled groups.

The court observed that authority was a major litigant before “these three judicial branches”.

“There is no explanation why the IHC and the district courts of Islamabad have been included because no such request was made to the FGEHA or the federal government in this regard”, the court noted, terming this a conflict of interest.

The court pointed out that “the privileges and entitlements of judges of the Supreme Court and high courts are described in the relevant presidential order. Like a civil servant or other federal government employee, a judge of the Supreme Court or high court has no right or entitlement to a plot costing less than its market value.”

The court was of the view that “participation of a court or its judges in any scheme of the FGEHA or accepting its benefits are contrary to the public interest and not in conformity with the impartiality and independence of the judiciary as an institution…was inappropriate and not in conformity with the constitutional status of these exalted courts. It was definitely not permissible under the Constitution for a judge or a court to be seen as usurping the fundamental rights of the people at large and become complacent to a policy formulated in breach of public interest.”

The judgement highlighted that FGEHA, in order to compensate some leftover members, planned additional housing in sectors F-12 and G-12. However, the court noted: “The object of the policy was not to provide shelter to the shelter-less…The sole object appears to have been to extend extraordinary pecuniary benefits to a few selected senior bureaucrats and judges of the Supreme Court, Islamabad High Court and the district courts of the Islamabad Capital territory… The object of the scheme was, therefore, not to advance public interest.”

Noting that this was a case of “Enrichment of a few at the expense of loss to the exchequer and the people at large”, the court noted that registered FGEHA members, after paying the registration fee and the determined cost, were eligible upon selection by the authority to the allotment of a plot having a significantly higher market price. A plot measuring 500 sq yds costs a member less than Rs5 million, while its estimated market value is more than Rs50 million. The difference should be earned by the exchequer, but in this case it goes into the pockets of those with no vested right.

As per the court’s estimate, this caused a loss of more than Rs1 trillion to the exchequer and the amount might be utilised in debt repayment. It added: “The general public will be forced to purchase plots from the beneficiaries of the FGEHA at market prices.”

The judgement contended that “the policy governing the scheme and the decisions of the federal cabinet appear to be in the nature of advancing elite capture and in disregard to the wellbeing and welfare of the people at large.”

Subsequently, the court declared the FGEHA’s projects illegal and directed the housing and works secretary to place this judgement before the federal cabinet to formulate and frame policies in light of the it’s observations.

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2022

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