The first image that comes to mind on hearing the word farmhouse is usually of a little hut surrounded by lush fields of crops ripe for the picking, rather than a multi-storey mansion surrounded by swimming pools, lush lawns, and maybe, a few token lemon trees in the distance.
But the latter description is more befitting many of the alleged ‘agro farms’ around the capital.
After the retirement of former Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry, influential agricultural farms owners in the capital seem to have gone back to illegally using their land.
During Chaudhry term as Chief Justice of Pakistan, the Supreme Court took notice of nonconforming use of land in the many agro farm schemes on the outskirts of the capital and later, case proceedings revealed massive irregularities in terms of land use norm violations.
But after Chaudhry’s retirement last December, neither has the CDA pursued the case, nor has the apex court scheduled any more hearings.
Forgetting sharks and catching minnows
Nowadays, the CDA has been coming down hard on slum dwellers across Islamabad and several illegal houses have also been demolished, but it has gone back to silence over the issue of enforcement of its defined rules and regulations for agricultural farms.
“In Ramazan, several agricultural farms were rented out to private individuals to host iftar dinners,” said a CDA building control official, adding that the authority did not take any action against such activities.
Meanwhile, the authority also failed to take any action against those who have constructed buildings larger than the permissible limits and those who have been utilising agricultural farms for other unauthorised purposes.
During the SC proceedings, the CDA conceded that almost 80 per cent of agricultural farms were operating in violation of defined rules.
Policy to dispose of a plot
The Islamabad Land Disposal Regulation 2005 is the set of rules for disposal of farms and other agriculture plots planned by the authority.
Initially, such plots were meant for the rehabilitation of people affected by development work in the region, but later, the authority began disposal of plots through open auction.
An agro farm plot is given to the affected people of Islamabad against 100 kanals of their cultivable land following the fulfilment of other legalities. So far, out of the 504 allotted agro plots, 332 have been disposed of through open auction, while the other 172 have been allotted to the affected people of Islamabad against their land.
Initially, a plot is leased out for 33 years, extendable by two terms to 99 years. An allottee provides annual ground rent amounting to Rs4,500 per acre per annum.
Initially, the covered area within the premises of an agro-farm was 2,500 square feet. The covered area was treated as the residence of the farm manager.
On September 4, 1995, the covered area was enhanced to 5,000 square feet, and on September 23, 2004 it was revised, once again, and scaled up to 7,700 square feet.
The amendment to enhance the covered area greatly benefitted wealthier farm owners, and on December 14, 2004, it was extended up to ‘mansion-size’ — 10,000 square feet, while violation of a further 2,500 square feet can be regularised after paying a fine of Rs500 per square foot on the excess amount. The maximum number of storeys was also enhanced from one to two floors plus one basement level.
Amazingly, despite the fact the covered area kept being enhanced, there were still over two dozen farms with oversized houses on them.
After an SC notice was issued in May 2013, the CDA revised the permissible maximum covered area limit again, but this time it was brought down to 4,850 square feet. At the same time, little to no action has been taken to enforce it.
Terms and conditions to develop a farmhouse
The owners of poultry farms are supposed to produce 4,500 broilers per month and 5,000 eggs per day, while vegetable farms must ensure 80 per cent of the farm is being used for intensive vegetable farming.
After taking possession of a farmhouse, the owner is required to meet 50 per cent of the production requirements within a year, while the entire project has to be brought up to code within three years.
In the case of Orchard Scheme, the owner is required to complete 50 percent of the plantation within two months and the entire project within two years. The ratio of plantation cannot be less than 70 trees per acre.
However, despite the presence of black-and-white, rules and regulations the authority has yet to implement them and risk angering dozens of top politicians, lawyers, retired military officials and bureaucrats who own the houses.
Published in The Express Tribune, August 3rd, 2014.
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