PESHAWAR: A Peshawar High Court bench on Wednesday directed the National Accountability Bureau (NAB), Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, to look into the lease cancellation of a large piece of land of the University of Peshawar’s botanical garden in Azakhel area by a former district nazim of Nowshera.

Chief Justice Qaiser Rashid Khan and Justice Ijaz Khan also directed the deputy commissioner and district police officer of Nowshera to ensure an immediate halt to all construction work on that land.

The bench deputed NAB deputy prosecutor general Mohammad Ali as the focal person on the issue and directed him to submit a report after the completion of a fact-finding inquiry by the anti-graft body.

It also ordered the Nowshera district administration to cooperate with the NAB during the probe.

PHC also orders immediate halt to construction work on the land in Nowshera

The court was hearing a petition filed by the UoP’s syndicate through its registrar and the university’s vice-chancellor against the Feb 3, 2016, order of the district nazim for the cancellation of the lease of land measuring 567 kanals.

On Feb 24, 2014, the then chief minister, Pervez Khattak, had ordered the handover of around 500 kanals of the botanical garden’s land for setting up two other universities, Air University and Technical University.

However, the high court had struck down that order on June 9, 2014, declaring it illegal.

The Supreme Court had also upheld the high court’s verdict turning down plea of the provincial government.

Later, Nowshera district nazim Liaquat Khattak, who is the brother of Pervez Khattak, ordered the cancellation of that land lease.

Botanical gardens director Dr Asad Khan and UoP assistant director (legal) Mohammad Riaz said that the university’s syndicate had approved in Dec 2003 the establishment of the Centre of Plant Biodiversity, which included setting up of a botanical garden in Azakhel, Nowshera.

They said that the Higher Education Commission had sanctioned a grant of Rs37.861 million for the centre.

Dr Asad and Mr Riaz said Nowshera district government had leased out land measuring 689 kanals to the university, for the establishment of the centre through a lease deed on Dec 16, 2005 for a period of 99 years.

They said that the impugned order of Nowshera’s district administration was illegal as there was no clause in the lease deed declaring that the lease could be cancelled.

The officials said that hundreds of MPhil and PhD scholars had been conducting research at the botanical gardens but they faced problems in research work due to the impugned order.

The bench wondered under which law, the district nazim had cancelled that lease.

It observed that it was unfortunate that even educational institutions were not speared for the sake of politics.

Dr Asad said that an academic block was also built on that land at the cost of Rs37 million but it was currently lying ruined.

He said that the university was bound by different international conventions to establish the botanical garden and it was helpful to research students as well.

Additional advocate general Syed Sikandar Hayat Shah said that the land in question belonged to the district government, so the cancellation of its lease wasn’t illegal.

He said that the university had utilised only a small piece of land, whereas rest of the land was unutilised.

Mr Shah added that the land was given away to the Air Foundation for setting up a university of international standard.

Published in Dawn, February 24th, 2022

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