The Lahore High Court’s Rawalpindi Bench on Monday directed the Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) to immediately de-seal Awami Muslim League (AML) chief Sheikh Rashid’s Lal Haveli residence in Rawalpindi.
Earlier today, the ETPB had sealed former interior minister’s Lal Haveli residence in Rawalpindi over “illegal occupation”.
Subsequently, Rashid approached the LHC against the move, stating that the ETPB officials were “misusing their powers under the orders of political high-ups”.
The petition urged the court to declare the move “illegal, unlawful [and] contrary to norms of justice” while also asking for the board to be restrained from “adopting coercive measures against the petitioners for their forcible eviction form the properties”.
Justice Mirza Waqas Rauf presided over today’s hearing, during which ETPB administrator appeared with the relevant records. He argued that Lal Haveli was not sealed, the adjoining property was.
Rashid — who appeared before the court alongside his lawyer Sardar Abdul Raziq Khan — protested to the claim, saying that he was “an old man”. “I don’t lie. Lal Haveli was sealed,” he told the court.
His lawyer also presented a photograph of the residence being sealed to the court.
The judge reprimanded the ETPB administrator for not presenting a clear stance and directed the board to immediately de-seal the property.
The court also directed the ETPB to resolve the matter, which concerns 7 units, within 15 days after listening to the petitioner’s stance and disposed of the petition.
Lal Haveli sealed over ‘Illegal occupation’
According to ETPB Deputy Commissioner Asif Khan, two units of the Lal Haveli and five adjoining units were sealed after teams of the board along with the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) arrived at the spot early morning today.
Khan said Rashid’s ownership of these Lal Haveli units had been cancelled over illegal occupation of land. Several notices had also been issued to Rashid and his brother in this regard, he added.
The former minister claimed that Lal Haveli was his “personal property” and a “central secretariat for public service”.
The ex-minister tweeted that he did not receive a notice prior to the action, adding sealing Lal Haveli was an act of fascism and terrorism.
“If it is proven that Lal Haveli is not our personal property, we should be declared national criminals,” Rashid said, claiming that the government took this step after it failed to find anything against him.
He went on to say that a case pertaining to the ownership of the Lal Haveli was already fixed for hearing on February 15.
In a press conference later in the day, Rashid said that authorities had planned to arrest him but he managed to escape.
“I was told that my ownership of Lal Haveli was of 3.5 marlas and not four marlas. These are all lies […] even if you try to touch the Lal Haveli, I will give a call and block the Murree Road,” he warned.
The ex-minister revealed that he was approached by several international directors who wanted to make a movie on Lal Haveli. “They have even offered me copyrights and this is what is bothering the government.”
If any FIA officer tried to step into the territory of Lal Haveli, Rashid continued, “we will exercise our constitutional right to fight for our property”.
“We are going to the high court now […] we will tell them that if this property is not proven to be ours, then we should be disqualified,” he stated, alleging that ETPB’s Khan was the “front man” of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah.
ETPB disputes Sheikh Rashid’s ownership claims of Lal Haveli
Meanwhile, on Sunday, the Evacuee Trust Property Board headquarters found out that the ownership documents of one of Lal Haveli’s eight units were fake.
In the record books, the property was owned by the trust.
“Previously, we were of the view that the registry of a 3.5-marla unit (out of the eight) as claimed by Rashid may be genuine. But when we probed into it, it was revealed that the legal owner of unit No D-158 is the ETPB. This is the same property against which Sheikh Rashid’s brother moved an application in 1995 with the ETPB for renting it out to him under the law,” a senior official explained while talking to Dawn.
“The registry is in the name of Rashid’s brother. We have asked the revenue department to provide further details,” he added.
He said the remaining seven units of the compound were earlier being used by some tenants until 2006. But, after Rashid became a minister in 2006, he allegedly claimed possession of all of them forcibly by threatening and kicking out the tenants. He further said the applications of the former minister’s brother regarding the allotment of unit No D-158 on rent were rejected several times.
“It is very clear in the ETPB laws that the trust property can neither be sold nor transferred to anyone. However, it can be given on rent in a bid to earn revenue that is then used to look after the temples, and worship places of Sikh and Hindu communities and organising various religious and cultural events that are also attended by pilgrims from various parts of the country, India and other countries,” he said.
According to another official in the ETPB, although the AML chief claims ownership of the haveli, he has never said who he or his brother purchased it from. That proved he had no trail of the property he claimed to own.
However, Sheikh Rashid has rejected the ETPB’s claims, saying the dispute was only limited to the trust property measuring 100 square feet on which a kitchen was built.
“It is a 10x10 room where we have built a kitchen. The dispute between the ETPB and us is only related to this small piece of land,” he claimed. He further said he owned only four marlas of Lal Haveli and had declared it in his income tax return in 1968.
The former minister criticised the trust authorities for attempting to evict him. He added that besides him, 15 other people also lived there for a long time. “But I only have four marlas. And we own them lawfully,” he claimed.
According to him, the dispute had been revived 16 times. “We have shown them all the documents every time, but they always try to create a dispute in a bid to lock Lal Haveli,” he remarked.