Divided trustees, Sindh govt’s apathy put Islamia College students’ future at stake

Divided trustees, Sindh govt’s apathy put Islamia College students’ future at stake

December 7, 2017
Arshad Yousafzai

Is there an end to the provincial government’s inexplicable indifference, or a limit to private administrators’ business expansion plans? Questions Islamia College students protesting District East rent controller’s eviction orders might want answered sooner rather than later.

While students of the Aisha Bawany College were lucky enough to have been granted the “luxury” of continuing their studies in the existing campus, the future of Islamia College students, however, as of now, seems to be in the doldrums.

As the rent controller’s orders add to the Islamic Education Trust’s (IET) – caretaker of the college property – conviction to have the premises vacated, the police are expected to act soon upon the eviction orders issued on November 23. The matter was initially stayed by the sessions court until November 26.  

How they got here

While November’s eviction orders may have been fresh, the college has since 2001 been embroiled in a number of lawsuits concerning its possession at not just the sessions court but also the Sindh High Court (SHC) as well as the Supreme Court.

What is more appalling is that the provincial education department could not produce proper records before any of these courts, resulting in most of the cases either being dismissed or decided in favour of the trustees.

As per the timeline of the court cases, on January 10, 2001 the then IET general secretary Afroz Shah filed a civil petition in the SHC to reclaim the college complex’s possession. As both the trustees and the government had laid claim to the property, the court decided to appoint an official assignee as the property’s owner until the case was disposed of.

As a result, the education department agreed to pay an interim amount of Rs1 million to the petitioner. However, the payment soon became the bone of contention between the government and the trustee.

While the former claimed it was paid in a bid to seek the property’s ownership, the latter says it was paid as rent, meaning the government acknowledged the real owners of the college complex were its trustees.

Moving on to 2002, this time it was the Sindh government that moved the high court requesting it to declare the trustees were not the property’s owners, but the suit was dismissed.

In 2004, the official assignee authorised as the property’s owner in 2001 filed a non-payment of rent reference, allegedly on behalf of the trustees, against the then City District Government Karachi (CDGK) – then managing the college’s affairs – in the District East’s rent court, and requested that the complex be vacated.

Then, on April 26, 2008 the rent controller’s court ruled in favour of the Islamia College trust being handed back the property, but the education department refused to abide by the ruling.

Students of Islamia College are holding protest demonstration against maladministration at New M.A Jinnah Road in Karachi on Wednesday, December 06, 2017. -PPI

The trustees again approached the SHC and filed two petitions so as to recover rent from both the Sindh government as well as the CDGK. Besides this, they also filed an acquisition application with the rent controller, which was allowed on October 15, 2012.

In the same year, this time the Islamia Law College, one of the four colleges located within the building, appealed against the decision in the East sessions court, albeit to no avail, as the sessions court also endorsed the rent controller’s decision.

Nevertheless, the law college and the education department went on to file two separate petitions with the high court seeking a stay order over the matter.

While a stay was granted to both entities, the one issued to the education department lapsed this November 9, prompting the November 23 eviction orders from the rent controller. The case is still to be concluded.

However, before the stay was granted, the provincial government had approached the SC last year, calling for it to be considered a party to the petition filed in the SHC by the law college. On the directives of the Sindh additional advocate general, College Education Secretary Parvez Ahmed Seehar called a meeting on April 9 this year to discuss the matter.

It was attended by College Education Additional Secretary Aziz Fatima, former colleges Sindh director general Dr Nasir Ansar, former Karachi acting regional director colleges Zamir Ahmed Khuso and former college education litigation officer Zahid Ahmed.

It was surprising that none of these officials were able to produce proper records at the meeting, which later resulted in the dismissal of the government’s petition by the apex court on November 17.  

Poor defence

"Granted the status of an amenity plot, the building of the Islamia College complex can’t be used for commercial purposes,” said Prof Moin Azhar Siddiqui, principal of the law college.

He said the Sindh government deliberately did not follow the case in court, which was why the trustees won the case easily.

At this stage, the government has the power to cancel the lease issued to the trust for setting up the college, and issue another licence for lease to the education department without any hurdle, he suggested.

Concerned for the academic loss of the students, Prof Siddiqui advised them to direct their attention to their studies rather than worry about the legal position of the colleges’ property. “No one can put down the shutters of state-run educational institutions. The land of the Islamia College complex was allotted for educational proposes.”

Another official who blamed the fallout of the 16-year legal battle on the government was principal of the Islamia Science College, Nadeem Haider. He believes the trustees were handed over the property owing to collusion between the former education secretary and some powerful bureaucrats. He says the Sindh government did not pursue the court cases properly, which weakened the government’s position.

IET, its efforts

1948 a group of people laid the foundation of the Islamic Education Society under the Registration Act, 1860. The founder of this society was Abdul Rehman Muhammad Qureshi, who already had to his name the setting up of around 17 schools and colleges, all working under his supervision and administration.

He was also the one to introduce the Qureshi Night College in Karachi. The college was the first of its kind in Pakistan and was quick to gain fame among students also working jobs during the day.

The same year the society set up the Islamia College in a small building at Clayton Road near the Mazar-e-Quaid. With the passage of time, the building proved insufficient for the growing number of students. The society then decided to acquire a suitable plot and have a bigger building constructed.

The court’s record reveals that the society appealed to the general public in 1958 for donations to construct a building for the college. An account titled the Islamic Education Society Building Fund was opened in the Bank of Bahawalpur, through which the society collected Rs15 million.

The Government of Pakistan also contributed Rs1 million. The Karachi Metropolitan Corporation allotted a plot to the trust on a 99-year lease at a cost of Rs2 per square yard per annum.

In the first phase a mosque and a single-storey building was constructed for the college. The trustees added two more storeys to the building. The complex was inaugurated by Field Marshal Mohammad Ayub Khan, also the then president of Pakistan, on August 25, 1961. A little time after the inauguration, Qureshi entered into a rent agreement, worth Rs58,000 per month, with the governing body of the Islamia College through the then principal GM Khan.  

Who’s the rightful trustee?

Kamran Hussain, who claims to be Qureshi’s grandson, has written to various relevant authorities claiming to be the rightful owner of the Government Islamia College complex. “On behalf of the Islamic Education Trust, we have no objection if the Sindh government takes over the Government Islamia College complex in Karachi,” reads the letter.

Hussain suggests that, “If the Sindh government pays its dues to the trust, the money will be distributed among deserving students for scholarship and other welfare projects. A society should be established for the purpose and the amount paid as rent should not be handed over to the trustees since there is a chance of corruption and misuse of funds.”

On the other hand, Syed Mureed Ali Shah, son of former IET general secretary Afroz Shah, claims he is the one who calls the shots regarding what is to be done with the property. He says he does not know Hussain and neither does he know why Hussain is speaking for his family’s property. “Fake people always associate themselves with families and claim to be relatives to grab property.”

Claiming that a number of such educational institutes have previously been handed over to their real owners, Shah called for the court’s decision being implemented by the Sindh government.

Shah was of the view that the Martial Law Regulation No 118 had only nationalised the management of the educational institutions not the properties; therefore, the owner and trustees had approached the court to reclaim their institutes.

Among the schools handed back to the trustees were the Allama Iqbal College, Parsi schools and several others, said Shah. “We, as a trust, won a number of cases including the one regarding outstanding rent dues,” he said, adding that he had no demands other than the court’s verdict being followed. “What would happen to the students enrolled in the college is not my concern. It is the government’s responsibility to make appropriate arrangements for them.”  

Nationalised, then denationalised

Situated on 22,349 acre square yards, bearing survey number JM-5, the Islamia College complex is located on MA Jinnah Road in Jamshed Quarters. Before it was nationalised in 1972, five educational institutions were running within the building under the administration of the IET.

It was nationalised by the then Chief Martial Law Administrator Zulfikar Ali Bhutto on March 2, 1972. All private educational institutions were taken over by the federal government or handed over to provincial governments through the regulation.

However, the denationalisation of the educational institutes began during Ziaul Haq’s regime, which was more appreciative of private investment in the education sector. Even the government expanded its privatisation policy and thousands of state-run schools were adopted by NGOs on the pretext of mismanagement and lack of funds.

In 1987 some of the nationalised educational institutions were denationalised through a notification issued by the Zia-led government. The owners of these schools were given back their properties after they approached the courts. The denationalisation process was sped up during Pervez Musharraf’s government.