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Tuesday April 23, 2024

45,267-acre land in three Punjab districts: Land allotment to army for corporate farming illegal, says LHC

By Numan Wahab
June 22, 2023

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court (LHC) on Wednesday declared illegal leasing of land to Pakistan Army for corporate farming, observing that the armed forces of Pakistan had no constitutional and legal mandate to indulge in corporate farming.

Lahore High Court judge Justice Abid Hussain Chattha said in the written judgement that the caretaker government of Punjab had no constitutional mandate to allot land for corporate farming.

The court order read that any land allotted to the military for corporate farming be returned to the Punjab government, and that necessary steps be taken to sensitise each member of the armed forces regarding its constitutional and legal mandate and the consequences of possible violations.

Earlier, the court had reserved the judgment on the matter which was released on Wednesday. The court had issued a stay order on allotment of land to the army after which the Punjab government had moved the Lahore High Court for vacating the stay order, granted by the court against handing over approximate 45,000 acres of land to the Pakistan Army for ‘Corporate agriculture farming’.

The government, in its petition, contended that the court granted the stay without hearing the government. It stated that the approval of the land was given with the consent of the cabinet. The allotment of the land to the army was to address the issue of food security and environmental sustainability, the government added.

The Punjab government had notified allotment of over 45,267 acres of the Punjab land to Pakistan Army in three districts -- Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal -- for a project said to be of corporate agriculture farming. In this regard, the Punjab government had signed a joint venture agreement on March 8 to hand over the land to the army.

Earlier, a notification was issued on February 20. The court had stopped handing over the land to army on a petition, moved by Ahmad Rafay Alam, on behalf of the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan. The judgement barred the Punjab caretaker government from extending any “lease of state land” for the above-mentioned purpose as per the government’s notification.

The court had issued notices to the respondents, the Punjab Board of Revenue, the Punjab agriculture secretary, the Punjab Forest, Wildlife and Fisheries secretary, the Punjab Irrigation secretary and the Punjab Livestock & Dairy Development secretary for May 9. The notices had also been served on the attorney-general for Pakistan and advocate general Punjab.

The petition argued that Section 230 (functions of caretaker government) of the Election Act 2017 said the “mandate and scope of the caretaker government is limited to perform day-to-day functions of the government and is specifically barred to take policy decisions of permanent nature”. The petitioner contended that the constitutional mandate restricts Army to perform functions of external and internal security and does not extend to “Corporate agriculture farming”, the intended purpose as per the government’s notification.

The petitioner implored the court to declare the February 20 notification as “illegal, null and void”, as it does not fall under the scope of the caretaker government.