Protecting land: SC gives K-P govt six months to digitise public property record

Published: February 28, 2020
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The Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

The Supreme Court of Pakistan. PHOTO: AFP

ISLAMABAD.: It appears there is complete disregard for legislative measures in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P) for protecting public properties as they “are being lost”.

The Supreme Court has ordered the provincial government to prepare and maintain a complete physical and electronic/digital record of all public properties within six months to better preserve and protect them and to have easy access to their particulars.

“The record shall include, making requisite entries, if not already made, in the revenue/land record in the name of the concerned local government, and mention its area, abutment, coordinates and any other particulars for their easy identification.

“The record with regard to every local government’s public properties must be permanently maintained by them and copies thereof kept at a centralised location by the office of the secretary Local Government, Election and Rural Development Department K-P in digital/electronic form,” says an 11-page order authored by Justice Qazi Faez Isa in a matter related to property dispute between an individual and the Peshawar Municipal Corporation.

The order also lamented that public properties are being lost to nefarious elements, often times in collusion with the concerned authorities, because the applicable law is not adhered to.

The court noted that the applicable law at present is Section 39 of the K-P Local Government Act, 2013 (the Act), which also requires stock taking by the City District Government Peshawar (the successor-in interest of the Corporation) and such annual report must disclose: “(a) particulars of the properties held during the preceding year; (b) total value of the property and annual return there from; (c) particulars of unserviceable articles and losses if any; and (d) plans for utilisation, development and improvement during the following year”.

The court also noted that previously the Peshawar Municipal Corporation and now the City District Government Peshawar has consistently failed to comply with the mandatory statutory provisions, which is all the more regrettable as the said provisions are meant to safeguard public properties and interest.

Even the court referred Section 41 to the Act wherein it is stated that “every official or servant of a local government, every member of a local council, and every person charged with administration and management of property of a local government shall be personally responsible for any loss or waste, financial or otherwise, of any property belonging to a local government, which is a direct consequence of decisions made by him personally or under his directions in violation of this Act or any other law for the time being in force or which accrues as a result of his negligence or misconduct, and shall be liable to pay such surcharge as may be determined by the respective Accounts Committee and such amount shall be recoverable as arrears of land revenue”.

The order lamented the continuous disregard for legislative measures in protecting public properties as they “are being lost”.

“One obvious cause behind such loss is not disclosing the properties and their loss by not undertaking the requisite stocktaking and submitting reports of public properties.”

By availing opportunity presented by this case, the court directed that every village, neighbourhood, tehsil, town, district and City District Local Government should comply with Section 39 of the Act and submit the requisite reports, and if there is any loss or waste of local governments’ properties to taken action as mentioned in Section 41 of the Act against “every official or servant of a local government, every member of a local council, and every person charged with administration and management of property of a local government”.

“This will ensure protection of public properties and provide deterrence against their ‘negligence or misconduct’ and to make them liable for ‘any loss or waste’,” it adds.

The court also clarified that if the Act is substituted by any other legislation the directions issued herein to protect and preserve public properties shall be deemed to have been issued with regard to similar provisions thereunder.

The court ordered its office to send a copy of this judgment to K-P chief secretary and the Local Government, Election and Rural Development Department, K-P secretary, who is directed to issue written instructions to every village, neighbourhood, tehsil, town, district and City District Local Government and direct them to ensure compliance with Section 39 of the Act and to submit the requisite reports, with copies thereof to the said secretary and if there is any loss or waste of properties direct them to take action against “every official or servant of a local government, every member of a local council, and every person charged with administration and management of property of a local government” and to make them personally liable in terms of Section 41 of the Act.

The court also asked chief secretary and Local Government Election and Rural Development Department secretary to submit written confirmation under their own signatures within one month.

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