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SC rejects pleas seeking review of verdict on Karachi commercial outlet

SC rejects pleas seeking review of verdict on Karachi commercial outlet

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court rejected on Thursday a set of petitions seeking review of its Dec 18, 2009, verdict which required pulling down of a huge commercial outlet built by a wholesale giant on 4.9 acres of land reserved for a playground in the heart of Karachi.

“For reasons to be recorded later, these review petitions are dismissed,” Chief Justice Jawwad S. Khawaja announced while heading a three-judge bench which had taken up the review petitions of Makro-Habib Ltd, Army Welfare Trust (AWT) and the federal government through the defence secretary and an application by residents of Sector 8-F, Lines Area re-development project, Karachi.

On March 17, 2011, the apex court had stayed the demolition of the outlet which was supposed to close its business in three months after the Dec 2009 judgment.

The court took the matter on a suo motu on an article which had appeared in Dawn titled “A plea to the Lord Chief Justice” by late columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee.

Before dismissing the petitions the chief justice observed that such kind of a thing never happened in the first world where a person simultaneously wearing a cap of the president, the army chief and chairman of the AWT (an obvious reference to former president Gen Pervez Musharraf) had allowed the conversion of a public park into commercial activities.

“This only happens in a tinpot dictatorship,” the chief justice regretted.

The court said it wondered why the land was awarded to the AWT for 90 years at an annual rent of only Rs6,020 when the trust had transferred it to Makro-Habib on July 31, 2006, on a sublease for an initial period of 30 years by receiving an advance rent of Rs100 million based on a variable annual amount of at least Rs17.5m and a maximum equivalent to one per cent of the annual turnover of Makro-Habib.

On Thursday, Advocate Khalid Anwar, the counsel for Makro-Habib, argued that the court should not have invoked the suo motu jurisdiction on an article because the land had never been an amenity plot or a public playground. It belongs to the Karachi Grammar School and thus a private playground. The commercial activity on the ground was in fact beneficial because it provided jobs to 300 locals, he contended.

Deputy Attorney General Sohail Ahmed suggested that the land should be reverted to the federal government because it was never awarded to the City District Government Karachi (CDGK).

Authored by the chief justice, the 2009 verdict had ordered Makro-Habib to raze the commercial outlet and restore the land to its original playground status. The judgment not only cancelled the 2002 lease in favour of the AWT but also the sublease granted to Makro-Habib in July 2006.

Published in Dawn, August 28th, 2015

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