Saturday February 24, 2024

A tale of two towers

The plot was allotted to M/s BNP for the construction of Grand Hyatt Hotel but it instead built 40-storeyed luxury apartments complex

November 25, 2021
Combo shows Islamabads Grand Hyatt Hotel (L) and Karachis Nasla Tower.
Combo shows Islamabad's Grand Hyatt Hotel (L) and Karachi's Nasla Tower.

ISLAMABAD: Three years apart, two high-rise buildings in Islamabad and Karachi -- Grand Hyatt Hotel and Nasla Tower -- have met different fates when dealt with by the Supreme Court of Pakistan.

In January 2019, a three-member bench, headed by the then-Chief Justice Saqib Nisar, restored the lease of the Grand Hyatt Hotel, which was cancelled by the Capital Development Authority over violations of by-laws. The plot was allotted to M/s BNP for the construction of Grand Hyatt Hotel but it instead built 40-storeyed luxury apartments complex, converting the green areas into residential-cum-commercial areas. The apartments were sold to high-profile buyers like Prime Minister Imran Khan, former chief justice Nasir-ul-Mulk and others. M/s BNP is owned by Abdul Hafeez Pasha, a close friend of Imran Khan.

The bench directed the restoration of the lease through a short order issueda week before the retirement of Justice Saqib Nisar. A penalty of Rs18 billion was imposed on M/s BNP without applying any method of determination. Saqib Nisar then famously said he had a dream about this amount of penalty. Dismissing the plea of CDA, the former CJP questioned that if the CDA was sleeping for 13 years. Now, when two towers have been built, the authority is saying they fall within the Margalla Hills National Park area [where residential apartments couldn’t be built] and should be demolished, he remarked.

“The Supreme Court’s building and the Secretariat also fall in the area; shall those be demolished too?” he questioned and said people have now bought apartments. He went on to declare that half of Islamabad was built wrongly. Many wondered that they would come to know the wisdom behind this decision of restoration of the lease once the detailed verdict is issued. More than three years on, a detailed verdict on the restoration of lease has not been issued. Meanwhile, the CDA negotiated a mode of payment with the developer in the light of the short order.

Three years later, an SC bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed Khan, ordered the demolition of 15-storeyed Nasla Tower in Karachi and directed refunding the amount to the buyers of residential and commercial units. The bench in its judgment said: “After examining the entire record and scrutinizing the reports submitted by all concerned agencies and departments, we are in no manner of doubt that the tower in question (Nasla Tower) has indeed been constructed on encroached land, which amongst other things has also blocked a service road.” While many people hailed the Nasla Tower verdict suggesting that it sent a loud and clear message to the real estate developers that violation will not be tolerated, they were also critical of the verdict delivered by Justice Saqib Nisar.

Other two members of the bench dealing with Nasla Tower case were Justice Ijazul Ahsan and Justice Qazi Muhammad Amin. Incidentally, Justice Ahsan was also a part of the bench which restored the lease of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. The CDA then raised objections on Justice Ahsan's inclusion in the bench, citing his previous association with M/s BNP as their lawyer. Then chief justice and head of the bench, Saqib Nisar, however, dismissed the objection, saying that Justice Ahsan's previous association with M/s BNP had no bearing on the case under question.

As for M/s BNP, it was set up shortly before it participated in the auction of the plot for the Grand Hyatt Hotel in 2005. Earlier, it had three partners who later quarrelled and now Pasha is its sole owner. Background discussions with CDA officials and lawyers remained engaged with CDA in this case suggest that it has made only payment of Rs1 billion, that too in 2012. The payment was rescheduled a couple of times before the lease was cancelled in 2016. When the SC restored the lease, mode of payment was negotiated again and the first installment under that agreement is yet to be paid, which is due in January 2022.