LAHORE: The Supreme Court on Monday came down hard on Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmakers Afzal Khokhar and his brother Saiful Malook Khokhar, warning that strict action would be taken if land grabbing allegations against them were proved.
A two-judge bench headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Mian Saqib Nisar was hearing at the SC Lahore Registry a suo motu case against alleged illegal possession of land by the brothers
As the proceedings commenced, Lahore Deputy Commissioner Salah Saeed presented a report stating that the ‘Khokhar Palace’ of the brothers sprawls over 177 kanals – 61 kanals used for construction of building and the remaining 116 kanals within the boundary wall.
The CJP asked the Khokhar brothers from where they had obtained the property. “You had told the court in the earlier proceedings that you had only four kanals of land. Would you like to hear what you had told us in earlier proceedings?” the CJP asked.
The legislators’ lawyer tried to intervene but the CJP cut him short.
Police officials told the court that complaints had been received against the brothers that they had amassed their property illegally. The CJP remarked that people were afraid of them. “How could they raise their voice against them?”
The CJP snubbed Saiful Malook when he tried to explain his case. “Did you not get the benefit of helplessness of the poor people by getting their properties?” the CJP asked. “Your name has become the symbol of horror,” he added.
The DC told the court that all the said land was legally owned by the brothers but its consolidation had been done in a dubious manner.
The Lahore Development Authority’s (LDA) legal adviser claimed that maps of the land were not sanctioned by the authority and that the town municipal officer was not authorised to approve them.
The Khokhar brothers’ counsel Ahsan Bhoon presented four maps approved by the LDA. The town planner, however, pointed out that these maps were not of the land where the palace was built.
At one point, the CJP suggested that they deposit Rs100 million in the Diamer-Bhasha Dam fund but they did not agree to the proposal. The SC directed the Federal Investigation Agency to submit a report on assets and lifestyle of present and former Halqa Patwaris.
The SC also summoned all record of the stay orders issued by various courts in disputes over pieces of land owned by the Pakistan Railways. It also issued notice to Hussnain Construction, the lessee of Royal Palm Country and Golf Club.
A two-judge SC bench – headed by the CJP and comprising Justice Ijazul Ahsan – was hearing a case regarding suspension of service on a railway track in the mines area of Chakwal.
Appearing before the bench, Railways Minister Sheikh Rashid said the department was not in a position to recover its land from illegal occupants because of stay orders issued by the Lahore High Court and other courts.
Shedding light on the case of Royal Palm Club, he said the owners had obtained a stay order from the LHC when the railways during the previous government tried to reclaim its land. “Railways has been facing an annual loss of Rs35 billion due to corrupt practices of previous governments,” he said.
The minster sought permission from the court to continue with short-term leasing of the railways land for cultivation to meet its expenses. The CJP observed that the land of the railways could only be used for rail tracks and stations. “However, the question of shorter leasing will be decided in the next hearing,” he added.
The minister said revival of the Chakwal track would not be viable for the railways. He pointed out that a maximum of 21 passengers used to travel daily when the operation on the track was closed down in 1991, while the revenue of the railways was Rs258 per day.
The CJP observed that it was the job of the railways to decide whether to run a train in any area. He later disposed of the petition in light of the minister’s reply. However, on the issue of encroachment, the bench adjourned hearing till December 27 and summoned the record of all stay orders.