CJP declares laws under which army engages in commercial activities 'unconstitutional'

November 30, 2021

Justice Gulzar Ahmed says report submitted by Secretary Defense retired Lt Gen Mian Hilal 'unsatisfactory'

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Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed. — APP/File

ISLAMABAD: Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed on Tuesday said that the laws under which the Pakistan Army engages in commercial activities are "unconstitutional".

The chief justice made the observation while hearing a case against commercial activities on cantonment land.

He asked how the army can even conduct commercial activities on state land.

Secretary Defense retired Lt Gen Mian Hilal appeared before the court today and presented a report which was declared "unsatisfactory" by the court.

During the hearing, the chief justice asked whether building cinemas, wedding halls, schools and houses fulfil any defense-related purposes.

The chief justice noted that all illegal buildings are being demolished in Karachi. He further noted that large walls have been erected on Karsaz road and the service road has been pushed further away from the road.

He said cantonment land cannot be divided into different categories.

Justice Ahmed remarked that the Pearl Marquee and Grand Convention Hall are still standing.

"The wall running alongside Kala Pul and the Grand Convention Hall must be knocked down today," he said.

"Large walls have been constructed on Karsaz and Rashid Minhas road for advertisements. This is state land," he added.

Cinemas, petrol pumps, housing societies, shopping malls and marriage halls are not for defense purposes, the chief justice said, asking the attorney-general to inform the court "how the Ministry of Defense can restrict their use to defense purposes".

Justice Ahmed said this practice is "found on cantonment board lands all over the country".

"CSD has also been made an open, commercial department store," he said, referring to the Canteen Stores Department chain of retail stores headquartered in Rawalpindi.

"A building was erected on Gizri Road overnight. We had barely woken up in the morning and they constructed the building," he continued.

The chief justice said that it is "not possible to allow the army's illegal constructions to stand". "If we let these remain, how will we demolish the others?" he remarked.

"Attorney general sahab, who will explain the law to the army? They continue to do as they please.

"The laws on the basis of which they engage in commercial activities are unconstitutional," Justice Ahmed said.

Then, to the defense secretary, he said: "You yourself have served as a general, you must know, it is not the law's intention that land to be used for defense purposes be used for any other purpose."

If not used for defense, the land will go back to the government, he added.

"Secretary sahab, if you are saying that commercial use is for defense purposes, then what does the term defense even mean?" the chief justice asked.

The defense secretary said: "Sir, if you allow me, I wish to say something."

He went on to say: "The scope of the term strategic objectives is wide. Commercial activities also fall into the category of strategic defense. In times of peace, these activities are for welfare purposes and are carried out to keep the morale of the army high."

Justice Qazi Amin said: "We know that it is marketplace laws that operate in cantonments."

The chief justice added: "Secretary sahab, all that is fine, but where is the cantonment on these lands? There are only houses after houses there."

The top judge said that army officials bought land, "then sold it off and left", after which the land exchanged several hands. "How will you get it back?" he asked.

The chief justice said that schools and wedding halls have also been set up at Faisal Base. "Anyone could be running on the runway as a wedding guest," he remarked.

Justice Qazi Amin remarked that the army "should not compromise on its big goals for petty business".

The army should take care of the sanctity of its institution, he added.

The chief justice remarked that shopping malls have also been developed on defence land in Quetta and Lahore. "It is not clear how the Ministry of Defense plans on continuing these activities," he said.

Defense secretary given four weeks to submit detailed report

The chief justice then asked the defense secretary what his plans ahead are, to which the secretary defense responded by saying that a committee of all the three military services has been formed which will identify illegal constructions.

Justice Ahmed said that cantonment land has to be returned to the government when defense objectives are met and that the government, in turn, returns it to the party from which it was acquired.

"Giving houses to top military officers does not fall under the ambit of defense purposes," he said.

"How can the army carry out commercial activities on state land? State land cannot be exploited," he stressed.

Addressing the attorney general, the chief justice said that he must inform the defense secretary that the report he has submitted in court is "incorrect".

"The report states that the [illegally constructed] buildings have been demolished, whereas they still stand. This is a matter of shame for both the court and the army," Justice Ahmed said.

He said that a comprehensive report should be submitted as to which cantonment land is designated for what purpose."According to the law, strategic land will only be used for defense purposes," he added.

The chief justice gave the defense secretary four weeks to submit a detailed report to the court.

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