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Tuesday November 30, 2021

SHC bans commercial use of amenity plots, public parks

October 24, 2021
SHC bans commercial use of amenity plots, public parks

KARACHI: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has restrained the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), cantonment boards, Port Qasim Authority and others from reclaiming 'more land from any shores' existing in the province or granting any such land to anyone or changing use of such lands.

The court ordered the cantonment boards, DHA and PQA and other officials to ensure that land and premises earlier sanctioned to them as public space or for other purpose of parking or facilitating the public at large, including parks and amenities, should not be used for any commercial or gainful purposes.

The court also restrained the authorities and private marriage hall owners and shopping malls from holding any functions, including marriage or social gathering functions or generating any sort of revenue for defendants till the next date of hearing. The interim order came on a lawsuit filed by the DHA residents.

Plaintiff counsel Khawajwa Shamsul Islam submitted that the Karachi Port Trust had allegedly leased out an area of 881 acres of KPT land in 2007 at a throwaway price of Rs 2.50 per square yards to the DHA. The land was already in the possession of DHA as an occupant.

He submitted that in a recent study about the reclamation of the seashore land, serious apprehensions have been shown against the DHA’s reclamation of land in violation of Article 172(2) of the Constitution and without considering the ecological, social and environmental impact of such reclamation to the habitat, wild life, sea plants, including coral reef and caused additional turbidity to the beach water.

The counsel pointed out that a legal action were also initiated against two sub-registrars of the Revenue Department on account of illegal allotments and lease of land measuring 1,616 acres to the DHA. He submitted that official defendants had not conducted any Environmental Impact Analysis (EIA) of these unwarranted reclamation and urbanisation initiates, which was affirmed by the officer present from the Sindh Environmental Protection Agency in the court.

He submitted that there is serious danger to Karachi ports due to such a massive reclaiming exercise where the underground sand is flowing towards the port reducing water’s depth requiring continuous dredging as no study on suspended sediments affects has ever been undertaken by defendant DHA, KPT and PQA which are in collusion with each other in such alleged grab.

The counsel submitted that the Supreme Court in a number of cases has restricted the DHA from using public lands for commercial purposes and passed strict orders. The court was requested to declare plots of private respondents given to the private defendants by the DHA for using commercial activities, marriage hall, shopping malls unlawful and public parks may be ordered to be constructed on such land and mangroves status may be maintained as ordered by the SC. The SHC’s single bench, headed by Justice Zulfiqar Ahmed Khan, after the preliminary hearing observed that contentions raised by the counsel merit serious consideration as the danger posed by land reclamation without any scientific, oceanographic sediment and subsidence studies, listed in the earlier part of this order is utterly irreversible. The court observed that it is a well-known fact that even in developed countries despite having well thought of reclamation measures, more than 50pc of coastal wetlands have been lost. The court observed that adverse impact of land reclamation on mudflats, mangroves, coral reef and see grass can never be ruled out even in by adoption of best practices.

The court observed that effects of global warning are already evident in the country and when the world is moving towards Net-Zero regime, haphazard and unnecessary land reclamation will always raise eyebrows.

The court appointed official assignee to inspect and furnish a detailed report with photographs and maps of the reclaimed lands by the DHA and details of commercial places of private defendants with regard to their title, occupation and land use within 15 days. The court observed that the official assignee may seek assistance of the National Institute of Oceanography, Pakistan.