The National Accountability Bureau (NAB) got another earful from the Supreme Court on Wednesday after its lawyer claimed the bureau is not liable to pay back rent on an illegally occupied building.
On Monday, the Supreme Court had ordered the NAB lawyer to present a report on rent paid to Rawalpindi Medical College (RMC) for use of its girls hostel, which NAB has been occupying since 1999.
A three-member SC bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry directed NAB to present complete records of their negotiations with a Rawalpindi Sessions and District judge during the next hearing. The bench directed NAB to pay the rent of the hostel according to the rate prescribed by the Public Works Department (PWD).
NAB Deputy Prosecutor-General Fozi Zaffar contended that the building was given to NAB by the Army’s 10 Corps. The Chief Justice immediately questioned 10 Corps’ right to hand over public property to a government organisation, adding that the building was meant for RMC girls students and should be handed over to them sooner than later.
“There was a time when people could not raise their voices against the illegal acts of security and law enforcement agencies. Today, however, things are not the same as they were. Today, even a child can step up and speak out against injustice,” remarked the chief justice.
The CJ asked the NAB lawyer whether the bureau would voluntarily vacate the building or a court order was needed. When Ahmed stated the court should issue an order, the chief justice ordered NAB to vacate the building and pay back rent to RMC for the entire period of occupation.
“NAB was established with the objective of maintaining transparency, and it should be careful in such matters and behave like a transparent institution,” the CJ stated.
Justice Jawwad Khawaja said the state is responsible for safeguarding basic human rights. He said the tradition of “might is right” must come to an end and everyone must accept the rule of law. Justice Khawaja also noted that the Supreme Court had set a precedent by evacuating buildings which were illegally occupied by Rangers, the police and the Frontier Constabulary.
The Chief Justice reiterated that NAB’s illegal occupation of the hostel has caused students a lot of problems and hardship for over a decade.
He lamented that if the Supreme Court had not taken notice of the issue, NAB would never have vacated the hostel.
The DPG informed the court that NAB has sent a summary to the PM for separation of courts between Islamabad and Rawalpindi. Once it is approved, NAB courts in Rawalpindi will be shifted to the judicial complex, while the court in Islamabad will be shifted to Margalla Road.
The next hearing will be held after three weeks.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 9th, 2012.