ISLAMABAD: Islamabad may soon lose its lush background when concrete structures emerge on the green hills, which the Capital Development Authority (CDA) has now allowed by making changes in the laws banning construction in the natural environs of Zone III. The laws have reportedly been changed on the orders of Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani.
The decision to introduce changes in the Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Zoning Regulations 1992 has raised questions regarding the constitutional status of the civic body itself. Legal experts suggest that the prime minister’s orders could have been declined in public interest to prevent ruining the “green area”, which was a constitutional obligation under the capital city’s master plan.
In its recent board meeting, the CDA approved the recommendations of a three-member ministerial committee, constituted by the prime minister to make amendments to ICT Zoning Regulations 1992. The committee comprised former Housing Minister Rehmatullah Kakar, Law Minister Babar Awan and Interior Minister Rehman Malik. Zone III is the forest area between the Margalla Hills and Murree Road and comprises protected ranges where construction is not allowed.
CDA Chairman Imtiaz Inayat Elahi also confirmed that the authority had approved the amendments following the directions of the federal cabinet.
Explaining the case, Tariq Mahmood, an advocate of the Supreme Court, told The Express Tribune that being a statutory body, CDA Board could introduce changes in the regulations. But, he said, “The authority also has the power to turn down any dictation either from the prime minister or the federal cabinet.”
However, Mahmood feared that the CDA would not maintain the record of this dictation and, if summoned by a court, the authority would argue that CDA Board approved the changes independently.
Mahmood added that the article 51 of CDA Ordinance 1960 gave it the powers to make regulations in the interest of public at large, but strangely the authority was making decisions on the directives of the federal cabinet. “The secret behind this sudden move will be known afterwards,” he said.
Furthermore, SM Zafar, a senior lawyer, said that the federal government had upper hand in almost all such cases. He said that usually such authorities and bodies were placed under the command of federal or provincial governments. To a query, he said, “The authority still has the power to turn down any illegal order from the high ups.”
He added, “In the case of former CDA Chairman Kamran Lashari, Supreme Court clearly observed that civil servants were not supposed to follow the illegal directions of the prime minister.”
Legal experts further said that the authority was misinterpreting an order of the Supreme Court to avoid any legal consequences of this decision.
On Wednesday, the chairman while talking to the media men at CDA Headquarters said that Justice Nawaz Abbasi of Supreme Court in 2008 had given a verdict for Zone-IV, directing CDA to either acquire land in the area or allow the inhabitants carry out construction.
Elahi said Supreme Court in its 2008 order held, “The use of private property for lawful purpose subject to reasonable restrictions imposed by law is a fundamental right in terms of Articles 23 and 24 of the constitution, ‘which cannot be denied by imposing unreasonable and unjust restrictions’.”
On the other hand, legal experts said that the aforesaid order of the apex court regarding “reasonable construction” in Zone-IV area of the capital ‘did not compel CDA to allow haphazard construction in the National Park Area’.
Moreover, the CDA Chairman claimed that 2,700 acres in the proposed area fell in Zone-III, not in the National Park Area where no construction activity was allowed. Elahi, along with other officials of CDA, however, did not have an answer, when asked “if the land of important personalities was situated in the proposed area where housing was being allowed for the first time”.
Officials told The Express Tribune that following the unprecedented move of proposed amendments in status of Zone-III, the price of land in the area was increasing daily.
“Investors and big landlords have also started purchasing land in the area,” they said.
Adnan Kundi, legal advisor of CDA, who will defend the body’s stance in the court, refused to comment on the issue.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 26th, 2010.