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ISLAMABAD, July 2: A special Supreme Court bench, created to hear land grabbing charges against the Bahria Town real estate firm, found itself facing the daunting task of recovering about 1,694 kanals around Rawalpindi when it opened proceedings in 36 cases here on Monday.

It is so despite the fact that the court had disposed of some 57 similar cases in the past before Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry withdrew from the cases involving the firm associated with real estate tycoon Malik Riaz.

On Monday the bench, comprising Justice Jawaad S. Khawaja and Justice Khilji Arif Hussain, streamlined the 36 cases so that they could move ahead in a systematic way. One after the other the complainants appeared, with their counsel, before the bench to briefly state their grievance against the mega builder.

One of them, Muhammad Naseer, a resident of picturesque rural village of Salkhaiter in the foothills of Murree, some 15kms from the Rawal Dam, claimed that in 2006 the developer Bahria Town entered into an agreement to acquire 108 kanals and 17 marlas of land in the village but paid only Rs7 million while rest of the Rs80 million is still outstanding.

Similarly Fayyaz Alam, President of the Wapda Engineering Housing Society, alleged that 237 kanals and five marlas of their land, also in Salkhaiter, was forcibly taken by the Bahria Town without any agreement.

Javed Akhtar, also from Salkhaiter, alleged that Bahria Town took over his 659 kanals and 13 marlas without any agreement.

Another complainant Naseer Ahmed claimed that the developers acquired 150 kanals in 2006 in Moza Niazian near Sihala but paid only Rs2 million against an outstanding of over Rs80 million.

Mirza Fazal Naeem claimed that the developers forcibly uprooted precious trees from his ancestral cultivated land of 80 kanals in Mughal Khas, Rawalpindi, to build a road connecting Bahria Town’s Dodochar Kalan project with G.T. Road at Rawat.

Complainant Mohammad Hanif alleged that Bahria Town forced him to part with 138 kanals of his land in Morgah, Rawalpindi, by registering a case against him on September 21, 2007 and sending him behind bars.

A widow, Ameena Bibi, claimed that four kanals and 12 marlas of her land in Morgah are in the illegal possession of the Bahria Town for the last seven years.

Similarly 309 kanals and 13 marlas in Model Town Humak, Rawat and Moza Niazian, all on the outskirts of Rawalpindi, were claimed to be in the illegal possession of Bahria Town.

The bench clubbed a set of six individual complainants, belonging to the Revenue Employees Cooperative Housing Society, with a direction to Advocate Ali Zafar representing Bahria Town to sort these matters out and inform the court on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, in its reply the Bahria Town challenged that these cases had any nexus with human rights and said the applicants had no proof of ownership of the lands in question.

The reply alleged that the complainants had tried to circumvent the law by directly coming to the Supreme Court when they should have filed civil cases in relevant courts.

To support the point it cited Dr Arsalan Iftikhar case in which the Supreme Court referred the matter to the concerned court.

Bahria Town emphasised that the Supreme Court was not a trial court to decide civil disputes between private parties. It said no person could bring a private civil dispute of whatever nature directly to the apex court.

Neither the Supreme Court is an investigation agency nor a trial court, it argued.

In case a criminal matter is brought before the apex court then it is for the appropriate investigating agency to probe it and for the prosecution to prosecute any accused in the appropriate trial court, the reply stated.

It said the applications “contain baseless, false and fabricated allegations against the Bahria Town and therefore needed factual inquiry through a competent forum, which is the civil court”.

The reply stated the Bahria Town is a well-respected organisation providing state-of-the-art housing facilities to millions of citizens throughout Pakistan, and has rightly earned respect as an institution and corporate entity.