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February 8, 2020

Supreme Court warns illegal occupants: Seizure of govt land not allowed

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February 8, 2020

KARACHI: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday directed the federal and provincial governments to remove all the katchi abadis from the city and submit a comprehensive plan for the rehabilitation of their residents in appropriate houses.

Hearing petitions that requested removal of encroachments on public parks and amenity plots in the city, revival of the Karachi Circular Railway and action against unauthorised multi-storeyed buildings in Karachi, a three-member bench of the SC headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed directed the Cantonment Board Clifton (CBC) to remove all unauthorised multi-storeyed buildings situated in Delhi Colony, PNT Colony and other areas.

Encroachments and occupation of state land is not acceptable, the SC observed. The bench also observed that the cantonment board was entrusted with the government land as trust and inquired its counsel as what the board had done with the trust.

The court took an exception to the conduct of the cantonment board for allowing the construction of multi-storeyed buildings on the federal government’s land and inquired the CBC’s counsel as to such construction was allowed.

Attorney General of Pakistan Anwar Mansoor Khan submitted that the land of PNT Colony had to go back to the federal government and except the government quarters, all the unauthorised constructions shall be removed there.

The apex court observed that the federal government shall take steps to resettle the affected people at appropriate places but added that the government shall not pay any premium to the residents of illegal buildings. The court directed the attorney general to submit a compliance report within six months.

Justice Sajjad Ali Shah asked the cantonment board’s law officer how the multi-storeyed buildings were allowed to be constructed in Delhi Colony and Neelam Colony, which came under the cantonment area, despite the fact that all such violations were compoundable offence under the cantonment laws.

The SC observed residential flats in the cantonmentarea were being sold out at Rs50 million and the cantonment board had kept its eyes close to such violations of the law.

The CJP also took an exception to the by-laws in the Defence Housing Authority (DHA) and observed that the DHA laws would be found illegal if the court examined its vires. Justice Ahmed went on to say that even if his own house came under the court order, the law had to be followed in letter and spirit.

The SC observed that Karachi had five per cent katchi abadis at the time of Partition but thanks to the federal and provincial land-owning agencies, katchi abadis now comprised 55 per cent of the city.

The apex court observed that all the federal and provincial lands had been unlawfully converted for commercial purposes in the PECHS and Tariq Road areas. It directed the Sindh advocate general to remove the katchi abadis from the Lines Area and unauthorised constructions from Jehangir Road and Martin Quarters, and accommodate their residents by providing them reasonable accommodations.

The attorney general gave categorical statement that the federal and provincial governments had already started planning to relocate the residents of Katchi Abadis in appropriate buildings with all the amenities of modern life. He submitted that one of the most serious issues of the city was that of Katchi Abadis as precious state land in the heart of the city had been covered by slums.

The provincial advocate general submitted that the Sindh government was also planning to accommodate the residents of katchi abadis in appropriate houses and for such purpose, town planners had also been consulted by the chief secretary. He informed the SC that the provincial government had approached the federal government to provide Rs100 billion funds for accommodating the residents of katchi abadis in appropriate houses.

The apex court observed that Rs105 billion was already misappropriated by officials of the Sindh government that were issued in the name of the Thar coal project and problems would remain unresolved even if the funds were released.

The Sindh advocate general submitted that all the exercise of rehabilitation of citizens should be done under the supervision of the SC or else such problems would remain unresolved for several more years if the federal and provincial governments were given such task. He informed the bench that the Sindh government had constituted a committee of town planners to give suggestions with regard to relocating the residents of katchi abadis at appropriate houses.

The SC directed him to submit a report with regard to the suggestions of town planners and the same would also be published on the print and electronic media.

The advocate general also submitted that work on Nehr-e-Khayyam’s beautification had been stayed on orders of the high court. The SC allowed the Sindh government to continue the construction work for the beautification of Nehr-e-Khayyam but forbade any commercial activity till the project’s completion.

The SC also observed that the Karachi Port Trust (KPT) land could not be allocated for a housing society for its employees but it could only be used for running the affairs of the port. The apex court observed that even the prime minister and president of Pakistan were not authorised to allocate the state land in their name as all such authority had been given to them as trust.

The court rejected the KPT chairman’s report with regard to the justification of its housing society and directed the chairman to submit a compliance report that should state that all port land was being used for port purposes and in accordance with the KPT Act and no land of the port was either sold, transferred or leased to any person or its employees and whatever allotment, lease or transfer had earlier taken place stood cancelled.

The SC directed the KPT chairman to ensure plantation of mangroves on both sides of Mai Kolachi Road and that the flow of seawater was restored in the Bath Island area.

The apex court also directed the DHA administrator to remove encroachments from vacant plots and submit a compliance report.

The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) chief executive officer (CEO) was also directed by the SC to ensure that all the land allotted to the PIA was not exploited commercially. The apex court also told the PIA CEO to remove a marriage lawn near the Hasan Square area.

Sabah adds: The Supreme Court (SC) on Friday directed officials to demolish all illegally constructed buildings in Punjab Colony, Delhi Colony, PNT Colony and Gizri Road areas of the metropolis. The chief justice said buildings should be constructed, but the process should be done through some planning. The court ordered the attorney general to convey to the federal and provincial governments to prepare comprehensive plans regarding housing facilities in Karachi with the help of experts so that the katchi abadis could be converted into modern residential areas.

The CJP said that housing units should be constructed for people but their buildings should be constructed through planning, adding that it could not happen that on a 60-yard plot, nine to 10 storeyed buildings are constructed and people did not have parking facility and water and other facilities. The chief justice, in his remarks, said that the federal and provincial governments had failed in solving people’s problems, adding that Karachi had been turned into a hub of problems. He said Karachi had become a mega problem city. He said he did not want to utter such words which could be harmful for someone. The chief justice said there was a problem that no institution in the country was working correctly.

AG Sindh Salman Talibuddin said Railways had rendered 6,000 poor people homeless. On this, the CJP inquired from AG Sindh that who had brought these people to that place. The AG Sindh, while pointing at the Sindh government officials, said due to these officers, nothing good could be presented in the court, as they did not want to work. He said the court should establish a high-powered committee for betterment of Karachi.

During the proceedings, the court grilled cantonment officials, persistently questioning who gave the orders for constructing such high-rise buildings in colonies. "If you conduct an inquiry into leasing in Defence Housing Authority (DHA), the entire authority will be dismissed,” the CJP remarked. Justice Ahmed told the attorney general to raze the illegal buildings in the aforementioned areas to the ground. This prompted officials from the Clifton Cantonment Board to say that they had taken action against illegally constructed buildings on several occasions. “We have given orders for razing unlawful constructions,” stated an official adding that the laws allowed constructing ground plus two buildings on residential plots and five storeyed buildings on commercial plots. “What world you are living in," remarked the CJ. “Do you think we are unaware of the reality,” he questioned before proceeding to grill the Clifton Cantonment Board land director. “How are such massive buildings next to Kausar Medico being given a green signal? You were trusted with the government land. What exactly is going on [in the board],” the court remarked.

The district administration, the Sindh government and the federal government have all been unsuccessful. The situation in Karachi has now become dire, added Justice Ahmed. He remarked that katchi abadis in Lines Area should be removed and the residents should be shifted to multi-storeyed buildings. “They [katchi abadis] hang from Quaid-i-Azam’s mausoleum like a decorative piece of jewellery. A flyover should not have been constructed in the area,” he observed. The attorney general replied that officials can sit down with the Sindh government and the Cantonment Board to draw up a plan.

Addressing the Sindh advocate general, the CJP said: “Why are you not legislating? Should we make the laws for you? We will not form a committee or any commission; you will have to act upon the law.” The official replied that if the court relies only upon the Sindh government, everything would appear white-washed. “If there is something to be fixed, only you can fix it,” he replied. “If it is not done today, then 20 years down the line another attorney general and advocate general will be saying the same thing [as we are today],” he said. The issue will not be resolved until the relevant authorities are fixed," observed Justice Shah.

Addressing the Sindh advocate general, the CJP said: “This is a city of tens of millions. We do not wish to say something that may cause harm. [At the same time] we cannot see anything that is promising.” The official replied that approximately 6,000 people had been made homeless due to removing encroachments from the railway tracks. The CJP remarked: “You only look at it from a voters’ angle. If you are so concerned about them, then you should come up with the necessary legislation to give them homes.”

The advocate general maintained that the federal government currently owes the provincial government Rs100 billion. “The attorney general will also tell you this,” he said adding that on paper, Rs105 billion was spent on Thar, but the reality was very different. “All of the money went abroad. If that money also surfaces, it will likely vanish,” the CJP said before asking the chief secretary whether a town planners committee had been constituted. A committee of experts has begun work. “We have sent recommendations to the cabinet, so it may take further time,” the chief secretary replied.

Hearing a case regarding commercial activities on land belonging to the Karachi Port Trust (KPT), the court admonished officials for assuming charge of government land. Addressing the KPT counsel, the court remarked: “You do not own the land. You were given it to carry out activities related to the KPT. How can you lease the land when the lease does not belong to you? You were only given land for the port use. But you are allotting the KPT land to yourself,” he remarked adding that this was a conflict of interest.

“As chief justice, whether I should allot the land belonging to the Supreme Court in my name or to that of my judges? We have been given land to run the courts, not for our own personal interests,” he said. “I was born in this city. Please point out those areas which are free of any construction. Police stations themselves are being given on rent,” said Justice Arab. “You have sold out everything,” he remarked adding that it was particularly painful because nothing had been left.

Commenting on the report submitted by the KPT chairman, the CJP said: “If we give an order on the report that has been submitted, the result will not be pleasant. It is best if the chairman takes the report back." The hearing was adjourned for Feb 21.