After lengthy debate, law officer hits on crux — a failure to follow procedure

Officials, law officers pass the buck and court asks if money was allocated or not.


Express June 09, 2011

KARACHI:


It was more than a hearing before a court, as city government officials, Sindh and federal law officers played a veritable tennis match by constantly flinging responsibility at each other in a petition to compensate six people displaced by the Lyari Expressway (LEW) project.


For years, Bilal and five other people who owned leased properties in the Lyari riverbed, have been desperately waiting to be compensated for the land they gave up as it came in the way of the project. The land was acquired by the authorities under the land acquitision act.

Shafique-ur Rahman Paracha, a retired bureaucrat, rehired by the city as he was considered “indispensable” for the project, was the most vociferous when it came to shrugging off the responsibility in court. He told it, “I am just the caterer, I just cater to what I was asked for.” He explained that neither had he acquired the land nor had he decided the amount of compensation. “I was just informed about the number of people whose land was acquired and then re-settled them,” he told the bench. He also informed the court that the city has a separate Land Acquisition Officer to do this job.

The city’s lawyer Manzoor Ahmed took his cue from the octogenarian bureaucrat and pushed off the responsibility on the federal government. He argued that the city government had paid its entire share and so had the provincial government.

The victims’ lawyer, Shaukat Ali Shaikh, interrupted this and drew the court’s attention to the orders it had passed and the stance taken by officials at previous hearings. The city government had promised to pay the compensation but was now making an entirely different argument, which was purely illegal, he said.

The CDGK’s lawyer, fell back on a defensive position, stating that the petitioners should approach the relevant EDO, prove their entitlement and get their compensation. The court intervened and asked where was the list of affected people and how much land was acquired.

There was a set process to acquire the land, the court observed, referring to acquisition law and said that the CDGK needed to go through the process.

Everything has been admitted, you have acquired the lease for the land, the court judged on the basis of the record and proven facts. The city government’s lawyer had no answer when the court pointedly asked, “Do you have the money to be paid as compensation?”

Additional Advocate General Sarwar Khan also joined the chorus and said that the Sindh government has fulfilled its all commitments and now it was the federal government at default as LEW was a federally owned project.

The AAG referred to earlier judgments and candidly conceded that the real issue was the innumerous bouts of litigation. “There was an urgency [to execute the process] and therefore [there were] no proper proceedings for land acquisition,” he said. “In the case of these petitioners, there were no proceedings,” he said, exposing the crux of the problem and everyone’s failure to solve it.

The city’s lawyer supported the AAG by saying that a number of identical petitions are still in court. He requested that they all be heard together to decide the issue once for all.

Another revelation irked the court. A federal law officer requested an adjournment, stating that after orders were passed by the SHC, the Deputy Attorney General of Administration had written a letter to the federal secretary but had failed to attach the court order.

The court then put off the hearing indefinitely, after asking the AAG, who said that the entire administration was busy with the budget which would take about a fortnight. The bench asked the AAG to submit details of the share paid by the Sindh government.

The federal finance secretary finance was also asked to show to the court whether any money was allocated for the LEW project and if not then why not.



Published in The Express Tribune, June 10th, 2011.

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