Authorities sealed the Lal Haveli residence of detained Awami Muslim League Chairman Sheikh Rashid — also a PTI ally — in Rawalpindi on Thursday, with an official present at the site telling the media that the building’s registry had been cancelled after proceedings.
“Chairman sahib decided [to take control of the building] after proceedings over the registry [submitted by Rashid],” Evacuee Trust Property Board (ETPB) Rawalpindi Deputy Administrator Asif Khan told reporters, clarifying that the registry was not fake.
In his order, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, the ETPB chairman said: “I hereby declare property no. D-156, D-157 and D-158 (units of Lal Haveli) situated in Bohr Bazar, Rawalpindi city, district Rawalpindi, as evacuee trust properties under the Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act, 1975.”
He directed the ETPB deputy administrator in Rawalpindi to “take over the management and control” of the property and seal it.
The order was issued on a reference filed by Khan for the declaration of D-156, D-157 and D-158 as evacuee trust properties.
An appeal could be filed against the decision with the relevant federal secretary and high court, Khan said, adding, “The haveli has been completely sealed.”
With police personnel standing in the background, the official said an operation was conducted to seal the building and no resistance was faced during the process.
The row over the property’s ownership surfaced in January when the ETPB claimed 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, a Dawn report said at the time.
It quoted an unidentified senior official as saying: “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.
“The registry is in the name of Rashid’s brother. We have asked the revenue department to provide further detail.”
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. The official 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,” he said.
However, Rashid 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.
He further said he owned only four marlas of Lal Haveli and had declared it in his income tax return in 1968.
On January 30, a day after the ETPB claimed Lal Haveli’s ownership, the department sealed seven units of the building over “illegal occupation”.
The same day, Rashid approached the Lahore High Court (LHC) against the move, stating that the ETPB officials were “misusing their powers under the orders of political high-ups”.
He 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 from the properties”.
Subsequently, the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench directed the ETPB to de-seal the seven units of Lal Haveli and settle matters of the property’s ownership within 15 days.
At the time, Deputy Administrator Asif Khan told Dawn that the total area of Lal Haveli was more than 16 marlas and that Sheikh Rashid owned a five-marla portion of the building on its upper floor. He said seven units adjacent to Lal Haveli were leased to different tenants, but Sheikh Rashid used them as part of his Lal Haveli.
According to the ETPB chairman’s order on the matter, the official filed a reference with him after the LHC order, “with the prayer that as the impugned properties no D-156, D-157 and D-158 are trust in nature thus the same may be declared as trust accordingly and the documents made in pursuance to change the title and status of trust by the respondents be set aside”.
On the other hand, Rashid’s brother, Sheikh Sadeeq moved the LHC against Khan’s reference.
The ETPB chairman’s order stated that Sadeeq’s counsel, in a written reply to the high court, stressed that proceedings in reference were “patently illegal, show disgrace towards the proceedings of the high court leading towards contempt of court, that respondent no 1 (Sadeeq) was the owner of the property vide registered sale deed, that he was the lawful owner in possession of the property, that the reference is based on political victimisation of the real brother of the respondent, that proceedings are carried out in complete disregard”.
He further argued that Sadeeq was the owner of Lal Haveli via registered sale deed no. 638, dated August 19, 1987. “The property no. D-158 is transferred under verified claim and PTD (permanent transfer deed) was issued well before June 1968, which is the target date for the validity of a transfer under the Evacuee Trust Properties (Management and Disposal) Act, 1975,” the lawyer contended.
For his party, Deputy Administrator Khan argued before the ETPB chairman’s court that Lal Haveli was “Saray Seghalan”, with municipal records from 1900 establishing that “Saray” was evcauee trust.
“The record of Saray still exists and is prevailing for the last 122 years,” the chairman’s order quoted him as saying.
He said the current property number of the “Saray” was D-158 and the passage to its inner area was underneath Lal Haveli. “This means that Lal Haveli exists over the ground floor owned by the Evacuee Trust Property Board,” he said, adding that in this case, how was it possible that the board did not own the building’s first and second floors.
“The first floor is D-158 and beneath it, there are many tenement premises with respect to which the tenants are paying rent to the ETP Board, so no registry against evacuee trust property can legally be made, and the ground reality is that there is no existence of other properties that are alleged as D-156 and D-157.
“Just one property is situated there, that is D-158 and is actually [owned by] the Evacuee Trust Property Board,” he said.
In light of these details, the ETPB chairman observed: “It is undeniable that Lal Haveli is overlapping on D-158 while D-158 being Saray is known as trust property under Section 8 of the Evacuee Trust Property (Management and Disposal) Act, 1975 as Saray is actually attached to charitable purposes.”
The chairman further declared the PTDs and permits to occupy (PTO) issued for D-158, D-157 and D-156 were “fake, fabricated” and had “many flaws”.
He further said the sale deed for five marlas, comprising D-158, on Lal Haveli’s first floor could not be assumed to be in Sadeeq’s name as he had also submitted an application for tenancy of an area on the floor.
The chairman concluded that after carefully perusing property records, “the ground reality in the instant reference is that there is no existence of other properties that are alleged as D-156 and D-157. There is only one property that is D-158 and is actually an evacuee trust property. Thus the same could not be transferred through any sale deed.”
Directing the ETPB deputy administrator to take over the control of the Lal Haveli, he also instructed that PTOs issued for D-156, D-157 and D-158 and sale deeds issued on certain dates be cancelled.
Following the chairman’s order, Sadeeq filed another plea with the LHC’s Rawalpindi bench, praying for the Lal Haveli to be de-sealed and the ETPB to be restrained from “dispossessing him of the property or interfering into his possession in any manner” till the final disposal of the petition.