ISLAMABAD: Six top court judges have recused themselves from hearing a case related to scrapping a federal government housing scheme in F-14 and F-15 sectors of the federal capital. Judges, powerful bureaucrats, influential lawyers and journalists are among the beneficiaries of the scheme.
In 2017, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) incumbent Chief Justice Athar Minallah decided petitions filed against acquisition of land for these sectors and asked the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to take over developing housing schemes and judiciously dispense the plots after developing the two sectors.
Later, a division bench of the IHC also dismissed an appeal of the Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF). In December last year, the matter was taken up by the Supreme Court as former chief justice of Pakistan (CJP) Mian Saqib Nisar granted leave to appeal.
However, during the last five months, six apex court judges have recused themselves from hearing the case for different reasons. Out of the six judges, three judges preferred not to adjudicate the matter as they had applied for plots in the scheme.
According to the FGEHF list available on its website, seven serving SC judges had applied for plots in that scheme. CJP Asif Saeed Khosa has formed a three-judge special bench, led by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Ijaz ul Ahsan, to hear the case on May 15.
Hassan Mann advocate, who pleaded this matter on behalf of affectees of land acquisition at the IHC, said the real issue is that the land is being acquired for benefit of a privileged class. However, this land could fetch more than Rs500 billion to exchequer, if auctioned on commercial basis.
He said: This is case concerning public revenue. Instead of generating revenue for public exchequer, the FGEHF is usurping the sovereign privilege of eminent domain to line the pockets of its members.
“Beneficiaries are serving or retired officers and employees of federal ministries, divisions, attached departments… judges of the superior courts – the SC, all high courts, Azad Kashmir Supreme Court and the Chief Court and the Supreme Appellate Court of Gilgit-Baltistan and the Federal Shariat Court”.
He said beneficiaries also include serving and retired employees of autonomous and semi-autonomous bodies, public sector corporations under the control of federal government, journalists, media workers, lawyers, employees of housing foundation, Ministry of Housing and Works and constitutional bodies.
The IHC Chief Justice Minallah while issuing verdict against the FGEHF had declared that “the state has no commitment to give a plot in a non-transparent manner to judges, journalists, lawyers or any other beneficiary of the [housing] foundation.”
Criticising allotment of plots to judges of Islamabad district courts, the judgment observed that these judges, who “would ultimately hear and decide references of the affectees under section 18 of the Acquisition Act, have either already availed the benefit or have applied for [a] plot to the foundation, thus… having a personal financial interest in the cases before them.”
“The entire machinery involved in the acquisition of land through the police force, from the chief commissioner to the land acquisition collector, have a financial interest in the foundation, ie, to get a plot at a price lower than what it would fetch through a transparent sale.”
Journalists and media workers, who are supposed to hold state organs accountable by exposing their misdeeds to the people of Pakistan, have also been made stakeholders, Justice Minallah noted.
He regretted that lawyers who should defend the affected persons and highlight grievances related to violations of their fundamental rights, are also a part of this ‘state largess’.
The judge observed that “none of the members of these categories have a vested right to obtain land in a non-transparent manner. Such an extraordinary privilege is not part of the terms and condition of a federal government servant or any other employee who is a member of the [housing] foundation”.
According to the judgment, there is no explanation why this largess is available to persons who are privileged and wield influence in society while the less privileged, down-trodden and shelter-less have no access to such lucrative financial benefits.
“There is also no explanation why those who were evicted from [the katchi abadi in] Sector I-11 and their mud houses bulldozed were not offered such profit-making largess by the state,” he said.
Later the IHC division bench also upheld Justice Minallah verdict and pointed out 26 illegalities in the F-14 and F-15 housing project of the FGEHF.