ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to return the information centres on Trail 5 and Trail 6 and the animal sanctuary in the foothills of the Margalla Hills to Islamabad Wildlife Management Board (IWMB).

Headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Qazi Faez Isa, a three member bench of the apex court took up a case instituted by the IWMB through Advocate Umer Ijaz Gilani. The court observed that the arbitrary manner in which CDA officials acted was inappropriate and accordingly subject to the outcome of this petition. The authority will restore the possession as an ad-interim measure.

The court noted that since neither any notice was issued nor the opportunity of hearing provided to the IWMB before evicting it from the premises, the CDA was directed to return the property with all equipment and furniture belonging to the board.

There is no allegation that IWMB was misusing the properties in their possession, the court noted. It also issued notice to the attorney general of Pakistan (AGP), the respondents and the advocate general ICT.

Arbitrary manner in which CDA officials acted was inappropriate, court order says

Advocate Arafat Ahmed, representing the CDA, told the court that in view of the changes in climate, the temperature was likely to increase in the summer and there was likelihood of fire erupting. Therefore, they need the premises to store firefighting equipment.

However, the IWMB counsel argued that if this was the objective of CDA, the petitioner too shares the concern and whenever the authority requires using the premises in its possession the board will cooperate with the civic agency.

“Needless to state that if any equipment is required to be stored, it will be stored in such premises and the CDA will also provide details of such equipment on the next date of hearing,” the order said.

At this, the petitioner’s counsel said though they were willing to extend any cooperation but the reason offered by CDA was not justified. The counsel disclosed that a spacious rest house was in the possession of CDA close to Daman-i-Koh which was used by the civic agency’s chairman, his family and other officials for their personal recreation.

From this place, the access to any raging fire would be faster and quicker than using it for recreational purposes.

Consequently, the apex court ordered CDA to furnish photographs of the rest house, its location and for what purpose it was used. Besides, any other properties owned by CDA situated inside the national park should also be disclosed and the purpose these were used.

In its petition, the board had sought a direction from the court to order the federal government and the CDA to take meaningful steps for the protection, preservation, conservation and management of wildlife as well as preservation, conservation and management of the national park.

The counsel stated that the petitioner was doing preservation in respect of the Margalla Hills National Park which was a declared national park.

The grievance of the petitioner was that over night without any prior notice employees of the CDA descended on different premises of the petitioner and evicted and removed them from these properties.

Since the area is declared a national park, it attracts public importance stipulated in Article 184(3) and fundamental rights of the citizens such as leading a life with dignity. It has been held in numerous cases that Article 9 was not just restricted to subsistence but included the use of parks and if denied it effectively undermines such and other fundamental rights of the citizens, the order said.

Certain documents were placed before the court, including a memorandum of understanding between private parties for the construction of properties which were in occupation of the petitioner of which they were dispossessed.

The court inquired from the CDA why the petitioner was dispossessed and whether any notice preceded or any opportunity was provided with the right of hearing. The court was informed that neither notice was issued nor an opportunity of hearing provided. What has been provided before the court was a letter dated Feb 15, 2024, issued by the deputy director admin.

Published in Dawn, February 23rd, 2024

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