A proposal is under consideration to grant a one-time indemnity to owners of agro-farms who had built excess covered areas under now-defunct regulations, according to the government’s top lawyer.
A three-member bench of the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, was hearing a suo motu case on Wednesday about the misuse of agro-farms in the capital when the AG informed the court of the proposal.
The misuse of farms includes conversion of poultry and vegetable farms into palatial bungalows, marriage halls and other businesses.
Malik said the government has a potential proposal to give amnesty to the farm owners because the increase in covered area was in line with previous Capital Development Authority (CDA) bylaws, which the SC has since struck down.
The Supreme Court gave Malik two weeks to come up with a proper document or notification from the government about the proposal.
At the same time, the court also said status quo should be maintained regarding new excess construction. The judges said the government should ensure that no new excess construction takes place to exploit the proposed amnesty.
After an April 19 Supreme Court directive, the CDA reverted to the agency’s original bylaws for agro farms, which allow for a maximum of 4,800 square feet (sq ft) of covered area on the farms.
It was a 62 per cent reduction from the most recent 12,500 sq ft covered area allowed by the CDA. It also meant that any of the 504 farm owners who had more than 4,800 sq ft of covered area had to tear down the excess, or the state would do it for them.
Malik said that since the agency in charge of enforcing the agro farm law had come up with regulations that are now considered illegal or unlawful, the people should not be made to suffer.
According to CDA by-laws, at least 80 per cent of the land allocated for a farm has to be under cultivation, but over the years, the civic agency gradually increased the permissible covered area for the farms, allegedly due to the influence of many politicians, lawyers, military men and bureaucrats who own such farms.
The CDA first amended its rules in 1994, enhancing the covered area limit to 5,000 sq ft from the original 4,800. In the fall of 2004, the area was further increased to 7,700 sq ft.
The increase is believed to have taken place in order to facilitate influential buyers.
In December 2004, the area was extended one more time to 10,000 sq ft and violations of up to 2,500 sq ft were regularised against fines of Rs500 per sq ft.
CDA chairman Nadeem Hassan Asif could not be reached for comment.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 25th, 2013.