The Supreme Court on Tuesday remarked that cantonment land being used for commercial gains should be returned to the government as the practice was in violation of laws as well as various provisions of the Constitution.
A three-judge bench headed by the chief justice and comprising Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan resumed the hearing on the issue of military land being used for commercial activities.
The chief judge also rejected a report submitted by Defence Secretary Lt Gen (retd) Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain for being unsatisfactory, saying the report "claims the [illegally built] buildings have been demolished, but they are still there".
The court directed him to submit a detailed report within four weeks, identifying the purposes of each piece of cantonment land.
At the outset of the hearing, the chief justice remarked that as per law, military land could not be used for purposes other than defence. “If the land is not being used for defence purposes, then it will be returned to the government,” the chief justice remarked, adding that the government was its owner.
The chief justice said cinemas, marriage halls, petrol pumps, housing societies and shopping malls were being constructed on the land meant for defence purposes. “These [constructions] are not defence purposes,” he added.
The chief justice said there were commercial activities taking place on cantonment lands across the country, adding houses built on cantonment land were being sold for Rs100 million, asking who will make the payments in return for taking the land back.
Read No more commercial activities on military land, SC told
“Go to Lahore and see how massive marriage halls and grandiose buildings have been built on military land,” Justice Gulzar told the secretary. He asked how a marriage hall can be built on a piece of land set aside for strategic purposes.
The defence secretary said he will visit the area in person and compile a fresh report along with pictures. “This is an embarrassing situation for the army as well as for us,” the chief justice remarked.
The SC bench told the secretary to mention which cantonment land was being used for what purpose. He added that as per the law, only defence-related activities can be allowed on military land.‘Strategic commercialisation’At the end of the hearing, the chief justice addressed the defence secretary, saying being a retired general he must know all about the uses of defence land.
The secretary responded that the term ‘strategic defence’ was a broad term. He claimed that the “commercial activities on the military land were also part of strategic defence”.
He said the commercial activities on the military land promoted the welfare and boosted the morale of the army deployed on borders during peace times.
Justice Gulzar quipped, “Mr secretary, everything is fine, but where is the cantonment there?” "There are houses everywhere," he said, adding that "if commercial use of land is being termed as strategic then what do the ‘defence’ purposes mean".
The chief justice said the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) was turned into an open commercial departmental store, adding that buildings were being erected overnight in the cantonment.
“Let us know what do you intend to do [to end commercialisation],” the chief justice asked.
The secretary responded that an inter-services committee has been established to take notice of violations on the military land.
“Your army officials bought the land, sold it to someone else, and left,” Justice Gulzar added.
The CJP asked how the defence ministry was planning to take the land back as it has now been sold multiple times.
"All the land of cantonments must be restored to its original condition," the top judge said, adding that the SC will also review all of the army rules and laws in light of the Constitution.
"The army is there for the country's defence, not for doing business," the chief justice remarked.
The hearing was adjourned for four weeks.
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