Imagine buying a flat worth millions of rupees after verifying all the no-objection certificates (NOCs) issued by the relevant landowning agencies and various government departments. Then, a few years down the line, the Supreme Court orders the building in which you have your home to be demolished.
All the NOCs shown to you by the builder before your purchased your flat now turn out to be illegally obtained or issued. And the building itself turns out
to be constructed over an encroached portion of a service road.
This is what happened to the residents of the Nasla Tower situated in the Sindhi Muslim Cooperative Housing Society (SMCHS). But the case is not as simple as it sounds.
The owner of the land on which the Nasla Tower is constructed allegedly obtained illegal NOCs and permits from the housing society as well as various government organisations under the watch of the Pakistan Peoples Party’s (PPP) ministers, the Jamaat-e-Islami’s elected local government representatives and the Muttahida Qaumi Movement’s (MQM) mayor.
To understand the entire story, one needs to keep in mind that the plot No. A-193 on which the residential-cum-commercial Nasla Tower is constructed was originally of 780 square yards (sq yds).
This story is about the allegedly encroached 341 sq yds — how, when and under whose watch it was obtained and allotted. Initially, 264 sq yds was amalgamated in the original 780 sq yds, then later another 77 sq yds.
The 264 sq yds
Plot No. A-193 measuring 780 sq yds bearing survey No. 242 was allotted to Nusrat Ali on December 23, 1950. After his death the plot was transferred to his widow Mustafai Begum by March 22, 1955.
Through a notification issued on December 27, 1957, the then chief commissioner of Karachi allotted 20-feet-wide strips of land on both sides along the main Karachi-Malir Road (now Sharea Faisal) to the SMCHS.
According to the recent SC order directing the city commissioner to demolish the Nasla Tower, Sharea Faisal was proposed to be 280-feet-wide in 1950, but after the allotment (of the 20-feet-wide strips on both sides), it was reduced to 240 feet.
“This additional area is claimed to have been allotted by the SMCHS to Mustafai Begum,” reads the SC order, which also says the area of the plot was allegedly increased from 780 sq yds to 1,044 sq yds.
“It is significant to note that this additional 264 sq yds was not incorporated either in the original amended lease or in any subsequent lease deed.”
According to Amber Alibhai, general secretary of the non-profit Sheri, the land allotted to the society in 1957 was for the service road, and not for the society to allot to the residents for any other purpose.
According to the plot’s current attorney, Abu Bakar Katlia, as many as 39 owners of different plots in the SMCHS were allotted additional land of 264 sq yds by the society in 1957.
According to Katlia’s lawyer Barrister Laraib F Khan, the then chief commissioner had returned the alignment land to the society and ordered land allotment to all the plot holders in respect of the allotment of the 20-feet-wide strip.
The statement seems misleading because the chief commissioner’s 1957 notification of the allotment of the alignment land makes no mention of any direction to allot the strip of land to any of the plot holders.
SMCHS Secretary Shuaib Alam says that back then the service road was unallotted, unutilised and unsurveyed. He says the society has the power to transfer additional land to any plot owner, so the front plot owners of Sharea Faisal were transferred the additional 20-feet-wide strip.
From Nusratali the plot was transferred to Mustafai Begum. After her death the plot, then measuring 1,044 sq yds, was transferred to her four surviving legal heirs. By May 27, 2005, the entire 1,044 sq yds was transferred in the name of Rafiqa Rafique by the legal heirs.
Rafiqa issued the power of attorney to Katlia, and the sub-attorney was issued to Muzammil Amin, but the conveyance deed was not executed. According to the SC order, the present owner had acquired the plot by way of a conveyance deed executed in 2015.
When asked about the details of this deed, Amin said he knew nothing about it, Katlia said the land’s ownership was transferred to his father through a conveyance deed in 2015 but did not share the document, and the society said they do not have any conveyance deed executed in 2015.
Through a conveyance deed the ownership of an entire plot is transferred to someone else. Through the power of attorney or sub-attorney, the ownership does not transfer, but the authorised person can sell the property and change its status among other things mentioned in the agreement.
JI’s Naimatullah Khan was the Nazim of the City District Government Karachi (CDGK) in January 2006. According to the SC order, the CDGK allowed the conversion of all the residential plots on Sharea Faisal to commercial status.
Legally, for the proposed change in land use, the impact on infrastructure, amenities, roads, traffic flow and other relevant technical factors have to be examined.
Shehri and others filed a petition against Khan’s commercialisation policy back then and argued how the strip commercialisation of residential plots was being carried out in violation of the application zoning, town planning laws and regulations, sanctioned area development schemes and the various plot-lease grant conditions.
As for the Nasla Tower plot, then measuring 1,044 sq yds, a public notice for change in land use from residential to commercial was issued in English and Urdu newspapers on March 31, 2005 by Rafiqa. The society also issued a relevant public notice in November 2006.
With just one objection by Shehri, the then Nazim of union council 6, namely Saifuddin Advocate of the JI, issued an NOC on March 13, 2007.
On September 22, 2007, when the MQM’s Mustafa Kamal was the city’s mayor, the master plan department under the CDGK formally approved the plot’s conversion from residential to commercial status, allowing shops, offices and flats to be constructed.
The SC clearly mentions in its order that the letters and certificates issued by the society stating that the area of plot has been increased from 780 sq yds to 1,044 sq yds are of “no legal consequence in terms of conferring title or leasehold rights on the original allottees or the subsequent purchasers of the leasehold rights”.
Both Kamal and Saifuddin could not be reached for comment.
The 77 sq yds
The story of the plot No. A-193, which was initially of 780 sq yds and then amalgamated to become 1,044 sq yds, does not end here. The owners made successful efforts of obtaining an additional 77 sq yds of whatever was left of the service road, thereby completely choking it.
The society approved handing over the land to the owners, and then various government departments issued the NOCs. On November 30, 2006 — still Kamal’s era — a letter to obtain the 77 sq yds was written to the SMCHS.
On April 24, 2007 the society wrote back to Rafiqa that the managing committee of the society had approved the induction of an additional 77 sq yds into their 1,044 sq yds in exchange for a pay order of Rs5 million, which was exclusive of commercial charges.
On January 25, 2010 the society asked Rafiqa through her sub-attorney Amin to submit the conversion charges of Rs308,000 of the 77 sq yds from residential to commercial status.
By February 19, 2010, on the request of Amin, the society acceded to the “excess/encroached” land of 77 sq yds, making the total area of the plot 1,121 sq yds, according to the allotment letter of the SMCHS. The Nasla Tower is constructed on exactly this plot.
On June 12, 2010 the society wrote to the master plan department that according to its books, plot No. A-193 is now 1,121 sq yds and has commercial status.
The Sindh Building Control Authority’s (SBCA) master plan department issued a report on the change of land use of plot No. A-193 a little over nine years later on June 25, 2019.
The report mentions nothing about approval being given for the change in the land’s status. It only mentions how the CDGK’s Jamshed Town Mukhtiarkar (Revenue) has endorsed the excess land measuring 77 sq yds, making the total area of the plot 1,121 sq yds.
After getting the additional 77 sq yds approved, obtaining NOCs from other government and landowning agencies seemed a piece of cake. After February 2010, Kamal’s tenure as mayor had ended and the entire local government was under the PPP’s LG minister Agha Siraj Durrani.
On March 31, 2013 the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued an NOC for the construction of a building measuring 183 feet high. The then Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) approved the architectural concept plan on April 4, 2013 under the watch of the PPP’s LG minister Owais Muzaffar.
Under his watch, on May 28, 2013 the KBCA issued an NOC for the sale and advertisement of flats and showrooms for the project named Nasla Tower.
“An NOC is being issued on the basis of an agreement for construction made between the sub-attorney of the owner and M/s Gigawala Builders and Developers (BL-2582) for construction and sale booking of the project,” reads the document.
On June 10, 2013 the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation’s land department issued an NOC for the proposed building plan on the plot measuring 1121.01 sq yds. On June 24, 2013 the SBCA issued a structural NOC for the project on the plot measuring 1,121 sq yds.
On July 30, 2013 the SBCA approved the basement, ground (showrooms), first to fourth floor parking, fifth to 14th floor flats, and 15th floor flats and recreation-only area on the plot No. 193, Block-A, SMCHS, having an area of 1,121 sq yds — all during Muzaffar’s era. On February 21, 2014, when Sharjeel Memon was the LG minister, the SBCA issued a plinth verification to Amin.
On May 18, 2015, on the basis of only an initial environmental examination (IEE) and not an environmental impact assessment (EIA), the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) accorded its approval to the project.
Civil rights activist Dr Raza Gardezi explains that the Sepa Act 2014’s IEE and EIA Regulations clearly mention that there has to be an EIA for a project that is ground-plus-15. On September 21, 2015 the CAA issued a revised NOC for height clearance of the project that would be 223 feet.
The country’s top court mentions in its order that a service road has been encroached upon. “In the opinion of this office, the available record suggests that the area of plot No. A-193 is 780 sq yds, and all excess area measuring 341 sq yds occupied by the Nasla Tower building is encroached,” the SC shared an excerpt from the city commissioner’s report.
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