The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Monday suspended its previous ruling which stopped the Punjab caretaker government from leasing land in three districts to the Pakistan Army for corporate farming on a 20-year lease.

In March, the Punjab government had signed an agreement to hand over at least 45,267 acres in three districts, Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal, to the Pakistan Army for “Corporate Agriculture Farming” (CAF).

However, the LHC had stopped the caretaker government from proceeding with its plan. The verdict was issued by Judge Abid Hussain Chattha on a petition filed by Ahmad Rafay Alam on behalf of Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan.

In the detailed verdict, Judge Chattha had ruled that the caretaker government “lacks constitutional and legal mandate to take any decision regarding the CAF initiative and policy in any manner whatsoever, in terms of Section 230 of the Elections Act 2017.”

In April, the caretaker Punjab government had filed an appeal with the LHC challenging its stay order against handing over the land to the army.

The hearing

During today’s hearing, a two-member bench of the LHC, led by Justice Ali Baqar Najafi, took up the Punjab government’s plea seeking to set aside the court’s order.

Punjab Advocate General Khalid Ishaq appeared on behalf of the provincial government in court today.

In the plea, the caretaker Punjab government argued that there was a contradiction in the court’s verdict, asserting that regulating agricultural policies was beyond the court’s jurisdiction.

The plea contended that the court’s earlier decision to stay the transfer of land was in violation of the law. According to the law, the caretaker government is authorised to implement or finalise any pending decision or policy from the previous government, it added.

After reviewing the petition’s contents, the court decided to suspend its previous ruling on the matter.

The agreement

According to informed sources, the agreement had been signed between the military, the Punjab government, and private firms dealing with corporate farming.

According to the document, the military’s land directorate wrote to the Punjab chief secretary, Board of Revenue and secretaries of the agriculture, forest, livestock and irrigation departments for handing over of 42,724-acre land in tehsils Kaloor Kot and Mankera in Bhakkar, 1,818 acres in tehsils Quaidabad and Khushab in Khushab, and 725 acres in tehsil Chichawatni of Sahiwal.

Speaking about the salient features of the proposed project, informed sources had said that the Punjab government will provide the land while the army will utilise its resources and retain the management of the project.

The private sector, on the other hand, is to invest and provide auxiliary support, including the supply of fertilisers.

Military sources had confirmed this development and said that the army was “not taking over the ownership of the land as it will remain the property” of the Punjab government.

They had further said that the army would convert the mostly barren, uncultivated, and under-cultivated land into fertile land.

At least 40 per cent of the revenue generated from the cultivation was to go to the Punjab government, 20pc to be spent on modern research and development in the agriculture sector, while the remaining was to be used for the succeeding crops and expansion of the project.

According to the sources, in the first phase of the project, different varieties of pulses, millets and rice were to be cultivated. This would be followed by large-scale cultivation of canola and wheat.

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