LAHORE: The Lahore High Court was told on Tuesday that a joint venture agreement signed between the governor of Punjab through member colonies of Board of Revenue and the Pakistan Army through director general strategic projects of the General Head­quarters for the corporate agriculture farming was not sustainable in the law.

“The JV should have been signed by the president [Arif Alvi] on behalf of the army,” Advocate Fahad Malik said in his concluding arguments on behalf of a public interest petition challenging the handing over 45,267 acres on lease to the army for corporate farming.

The counsel, however, reiterated that the army was not authorised or empowered to undertake any commercial or other activities beyond its composition. He said that the army had no jurisdiction to directly or indirectly engage in business ventures of any nature outside its composition nor to claim any state land for corporate agriculture farming.

He argued that the government had given an impression as if only barren or waste land had been leased out but the JV document showed that cultivated land had also been handed over to the army under the garb of corporate farming.

Pointing out more anomalies in the JV agreement, Advocate Malik said the lessor (the government) had been burdened with an undue responsibility to provide the lessee (the army) canal water or electricity, construct farm to market roads or tracks.

Summing up his arguments, the counsel said the impugned notification of the land lease was illegal as the caretaker government of the province was not vested with any power to sanction it. He said the scope of the caretaker government was limited to perform day-to-day functions of the province and specifically barred it from taking policy decisions of permanent nature.

Justice Abid Hussain Chattha would resume further hearing on Wednesday (today).

The other day, record placed before the court showed that a ministerial committee that met last year to modify the terms and conditions for corporate farming under the CPEC had not recorded its formal minutes.

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 filed a petition with the LHC.

Pilap 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 the government is responsible for protecting certain natural resources and cannot give them away to private citizens arbitrarily.

Published in Dawn, May 31st, 2023

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