LAHORE: The caretaker Punjab government has placed before the Lahore High Court documents showing that a ministerial committee that met last year to modify the terms and conditions for corporate farming under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), had not recorded its formal minutes.

The provincial government submitted the record in the case challenging its decision to hand over 45,267 acres on lease to the Pakistan Army for corporate farming, as the decision taken in this meeting formed the basis for the handing over of the land.

Justice Abid Hussain Chattha, who is hearing a public interest petition, had stayed the handing over of the land.

Asked about the names of the provincial ministers who attended the Oct 14, 2022 meeting — held before the dissolution of the provincial assembly by Chaudhry Parvez Elahi — a law officer said Mohsin Leghari and Raja Basharat were in attendance, though the latter did not put his signatures on the attendance sheet.

Two ministers attended Oct 2022 huddle; approval based on summary okayed by ex-CM Buzdar a year earlier

A summary prepared by the member (colonies) of the Board of Revenue (BoR) in February 2023 mentioned that the ministerial committee in its October 2022 meeting discussed the matter and directed relevant officials to review the amended statement of conditions and put up the same before the provincial cabinet.

“However, no formal minutes were recorded of the said meeting,” the document stated.

The LHC was further informed that earlier, on June 25, 2021, the BoR submitted a summary to the then-chief minister Sardar Usman Buzdar with regard to the promotion of corporate agriculture farming. It said the BoR summary proposed the placement of statement of conditions before the standing committee of the cabinet on legislative business and the proposal was approved by the then-CM.

As the caretaker government agreed this year to hand over the land to the army in three districts Bhakkar, Khushab and Sahiwal on a 20-year lease (with the possibility to extend it for another 10 years), Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan (Pilap), a non-profit organisation, through Advocate Ahmad Rafay Alam, challenged it in court.

Pilap, in its petition, questioned the caretaker government’s power to take the decision, which it said was also in violation of the Doctrine of Public Trust that states government is responsible for protecting certain natural resources and cannot give them away to private citizens arbitrarily.

The petitioner also argued the Pakistan Army Act, 1952 did not empower it to undertake any activity beyond its scope for welfare, unless the federal government expressly granted permission to do so. The army neither had the jurisdiction to directly or indirectly engage in business ventures outside its scope nor can it claim any state land for corporate agriculture farming, according to the petitioner.

The judge later adjourned further hearing till Tuesday (today).

Published in Dawn, May 30th, 2023

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