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SC notices ‘change of heart’ by MDA in Bahria Town case

SC notices ‘change of heart’ by MDA in Bahria Town case

ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court noticed on Thursday an apparent change of heart when a petitioner and the government departments concerned were seen toeing the line in support of a leading real estate developer — Bahria Town — in a case relating to alleged illegal allotment of state land in Karachi.

“Change of heart on the part of the Malir Development Authority (MDA) is visible,” observed Justice Maqbool Baqar, a member of the three-judge bench that had taken a number of cases relating to alleged illegal adjustment in the land record to dole out land to the Bahria Foundation at low prices. Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan headed the bench.

Justice Baqar recalled that it was said in the allegations that a certain nullah in the area had also been allotted to the developer.

According to reports, the total land consolidated by the MDA and handed over to the Bahria Town in 2015 was 9,385 acres in 43 Dehs, about 9km from the toll plaza on the Karachi-Hyderabad Super Highway.

Besides, the petitioner Mehmood Akhtar Naqvi, who earlier had accused the Sindh government and the Sindh Board of Revenue (SBR) of allotting government land to the land developer, instituted another petition and then argued that the land should be provided to the developer at the same value at which land was allotted to the Defence Housing Authority (DHA), Karachi.

Walking with the support of a walker, Mr Naqvi came slowly to the rostrum of the courtroom No.3 to argue that the SBR had sold a considerable chunk of land to the DHA for developing a housing scheme at a rate of Rs100,000 per acre.

“Now the Bahria Town is developing a housing scheme in which housing facilities will also be provided to poor and downtrodden people of Karachi,” he said. “Therefore every effort should be made not to snatch the shelter from the poor of Karachi by directing the SBR and the Sindh government to allot the land to the developer by deducting Rs100,000 per acre in a similar fashion as was done when the land was given to the DHA.”

Arguing next, Advocate General (AG) for Sindh Ghulam Sarwar Khan said the property was given by the SBR to the MDA for the purpose of bringing development like it was done in the area of the Karachi Development Authority (KDA).

Later, the MDA adjusted the land with the Bahria Town under Section 10-a of the Colonization of Government Lands (Sindh) Act 1912, he said. The MDA has paid about Rs166.8 million to the SBR and it still has to pay Rs600m.

At this Justice Ejaz Afzal Khan inquired about terms and conditions of the agreement reached between the MDA and the Bahria Foundation and whether the mechanism and requirements enshrined in section 10-a of the act had been adhered to.

Senior counsel Farooq Naek, representing the SBR, said on a summary moved by the MDA, the board had allotted the land to the authority, adding that he would submit a comprehensive brief to the court to satisfy all queries and reservations raised by it about the land deal.

He conceded that the pivotal question in the matter was whether the MDA had handed over the land to the Bahria Foundation in accordance with the law or not.

Advocate Ali Zafar, representing the Bahria Town, told the court that the MDA owned the land but the dispute revolved around how much land had been exchanged with the Bahria Town by the MDA and how much land the authority got in return.

He said an entire city was being developed in an area which earlier was in wilderness, adding that the entire land handed over to Bahria Town was within the jurisdiction of the MDA.

The court allowed Mr Naek to submit his explanations by April 19 and directed the AG of Sindh to submit his input in the matter also.

Meanwhile, the same bench ordered the deputy commissioners and the district collectors of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to appear in person on Friday and inform the court about the state of forest land allegedly encroached upon by the Bahria Town (Private) Limited.

The court had taken up the 2005 application filed by Malik Muhammad Shafi highlighting destruction of forest and illegal acquisition of land by the Bahria Town.

“This is not forcibly encroached rather it comes under the category of trespass,” Justice Khan said and expressed surprise how such a huge chunk of land could be taken over just like that. “The court wants facts only,” he said.

The dispute pertains to occupation of 684 acres of land in Rakh Takht Pari Forest and 732.5 acres in Lohi Bheer Forest by the Bahria Town.

Rakh Takht Pari Forest, spread over 2,210 acres, is located near GT Road at the distance of 6km from Rawalpindi city.

On May 13, 2013, the then district coordination officer Rashid Mehmood and divisional forest officer Ijaz Ahmed had told the court that at the behest of the Bahria Town, police and Rangers had thwarted an attempt by the forest department to demarcate the land in the Takht Pari in Sept 7, 2011. The Bahria Town management had also kept hostage a team of the forest department for a couple of hours, they alleged.

Mr Mehmood also recalled that the Board of Revenue had cancelled mutation entries of the land in favour of the Bahria Town on Sept 10, 2012.

On Thursday, Additional Advocate General for Punjab Razzaq A. Mirza told the court that in 2015, the then district coordination officer had claimed recovery of 800 kanals of land from the Bahria. But no report to this effect was filed.

Deputy Attorney General Sajid Ilyas Bhatti said earlier the court had ordered the Survey of Pakistan and the forest and revenue departments to demarcate the Lohi Bheer land but it had not been done yet.

Published in Dawn, April 7th, 2017

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