The Supreme Court has permitted the Punjab government to go ahead with the controversial Ashyana housing scheme without setting aside a stay order issued two days ago to halt construction.
A three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhary resumed hearing of Noor Shah’s petition, the custodian of Noor Shah shrine, who had approached the court with the grievance that the Punjab government appropriated the adjoining land for the housing scheme. Advocate General (AG) Punjab Khwaja Harris informed the court that the Punjab government has invested Rs2 billion in the Ashyana housing scheme which is meant for low-income families. Shah submitted that the Punjab government grabbed the land adjoining the shrine and allotted alternative land as compensation 25 miles away from the shrine. Construction is already under way on 100 kanals.
The chief justice observed that according to the Punjab Land Ordinance, substitute land cannot be given against previously allocated land; the scheme could have been launched elsewhere. The AG submitted that 500 units have been constructed and the structure of another 700 units has been completed. The Punjab government acquired 672 kanals and allocated 2,835 kanals as a substitute to the shrine. His request to cancel the stay order earlier issued on Shah’s petition was refused. The court said the provincial government could continue with the construction work on their own responsibility. The court has directed the Punjab government to pay off the income of commercial area of housing scheme to the evacuee trust. The hearing has been adjourned for an indefinite period.
The Ashiana housing scheme, a project for low income and homeless people in Punjab was initiated in Lahore and will be replicated in other cities. There is a special quota for the poor, widows and disabled persons and the houses will be allotted by balloting. The project will have all the necessities of a modern residential area, like roads, sewerage, water, electricity, a hospital, transport, commercial area, parks, a health club and a community centre.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 5th, 2011.