ISLAMABAD: Supreme Court on Friday ordered to recover illegally occupied land and take action against unauthorised construction in Islamabad.
The court order asked: “when will the illegal construction and occupation end? Is Islamabad’s land used in accordance with the master plan?”
This was directed by a three-member bench led by Justice Gulzar Ahmed while hearing the Centaurus Mall encroachment case. Captial Development Authority (CDA) and National Highway Authority (NHA) chairmen, replying to summons, were present in court.
The court further ordered that authorities can use Google Maps to identify land being used in violation of Islamabad’s master plan. The order also directed to lodge civil and criminal cases against all those CDA officers who are found guilty of misconduct. Embezzled funds should be recovered from officers responsible for causing financial damages to the CDA and a detailed report should be submitted to the court along with relevant documents within six weeks, it added.
The bench observed that the mayor, by his own admission, is powerless to do anything in the city despite having 11,000 employees at his disposal. The court inquired, “what is the purpose of the Islamabad Metropolitan Corporation (IMC) then?” All the development works should be done with the approval of the IMC and the interior ministry secretary should find an administrative solution for Islamabad, the bench said.
CDA Chairman and Islamabad Capital Territory (ICT) Administration Chief Commissioner Amer Ali Ahmed contented that the interior ministry has issued a notification for constituting the new board of the civic authority. He added that the CDA has managed to weather a financial crisis during his tenure and now CDA has more than Rs11 billion available in its kitty.
Justice Ahmed, who is set to become chief justice of Pakistan on December 21, remarked that what is the benefit of having all this money when the authority could not resolve the problems of residents.
During the hearing, Justice Ahmed lashed out against the capital’s authorities for “ruining Islamabad” and regretted that the construction of high-rise buildings have approved on directions of politicians. “Don’t earthquakes affect this city?” he inquired.
He further said that billboards have been erected on the Kashmir Highway in violation of the rules and regulations. Moreover, there are no streetlights from the Islamabad International Airport to the urban limits of the federal capital.
Replying to the questions raised regarding the mall, the CDA chairman said that they had finalsied building regulations last week. These regulations will cover all aspects which were overlooked in the past.
As for the billboards and streetlights, Ahmed said the responsibility lies with the IMC. For the beautification of the federal capital, he said that the CDA was planting 100,000 plants along the Kashmir Highway.
Responding to accusations of misconduct by the authority’s officers, the CDA chief told the apex court that they were taking action against the officers responsible for encroachment.
Justice Ahmed remarked that the area around the mall looks like fish market in the evening due to haphazard parking and chaotic traffic.
He reminded that the responsibility of making parking arrangements lies with management of shopping malls.
At this, the CDA chairman said that on being pointed out by the top court, that relevant area adjacent to the mall has been sealed again.
The management of the mall had created a parking lot for motorbikes on the government land by breaching a wire fence. Justice Ahmed asked the CDA to convert the empty lot into a place that can be used by the public in the shape of a parking lot or park.
He further noted that all over the world, plazas arrange for car parking themselves. However, in this instance, the Islamabad mayor cannot escape his responsibility as he has manpower and the budget to provide a solution.
IMC Mayor Ansar Aziz, however, argued that he was powerless. Such was the apathy in the corporation that the interior ministry was ordering transfers and postings at will, he lamented.
“The IMC was not given its due share in the budget.” Aziz said, adding that despite what was on paper, it was the CDA who was running the show in IMC.
Justice Ahmed stated that the CDA should not have any concerns in the sale and purchase of lands while development work should lie with the elected representatives.
He expressed resentment over the cleanliness situation in Islamabad and observed that there are heaps of garbage across the city.
“Is there anyone to clean the garbage? What is the use of keeping an army of 11,000 employees.” He pointed out that the objective of deploying officers in CDA was to allow them to work not just to give them a job. He regretted that no comprehensive public transport service in the federal capital could be built since 1960.
“There is one shaking Metro running [in Islamabad]. There is no rickshaw in sight,” he observed. “Bring in rickshaws, show the people your culture.”
The judge also expressed annoyance at overseas Pakistanis’ “refusal to work in the country”.
“Overseas Pakistanis are running the transport system in London. Our best town planners have gone to America and Canada. They say that they cannot work in a jungle. Their refusal [to work in Pakistan] is a slap on their and the country’s face.”
NHA chief grilled
Justice Ahmed pointed out the deteriorating situation of roads in the federal capital.
“One fears of running into a footpath while driving on the Kashmir Highway.”
He also pointed out the deteriorating situation of the Karachi-Hyderabad motorway and inquired: “Is this what we call a motorway! Its condition is worse than a regular road.”
He also pointed out the Chitral-Gilgit road project was only on the paper and there is no sign of a road there.
Justice Ahmed said that in all traffic accidents on the highways, the NHA chairman should be included because the police maintains that accidents occur due to the deteriorating condition of the road. Make highway authority responsible, Justice Ahmed stated. He reprimanded the NHA chairman for failing to understand the law as the law might lead to the “death sentence as well”.
NHA chairman sought more time to implement court orders.
The NHA chairman was told submit a report on the action taken.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 7th, 2019.