Tale as old as time: Property dispute older than Pakistan continues to date

Tenants of disputed property have been submitting rent of Rs5 every month for the last 73 years.

Naeem Sahoutara August 14, 2014


In a property dispute in Mai Bachi Compound in Lyari that dates back to 1941, the number of tenants has risen from 62 to nearly 500. Seventy-three years later, the case is still pending in court.

The nearly 500 petitioners have been litigating the city’s oldest case, No. 16, to obtain ownership of the 4,000-square-yard Mai Bachi Compound since the time when the Sindh High Court was known as the Sindh Chief Court.

“We are celebrating the 68th Independence Day this year,” said resident Muhammad Yousuf, pointing to the compound dotted with green and white flags. “The litigation has been pending for the last 73 years.” Generations have passed and these families continue to spend both time and money to obtain ownership.

The dispute started when the families, who were living in shanties under the tenancy agreement over the land in question, claimed its ownership. Two Hindu landlords, the Maharaj brothers, as the tenants today remember them, were the property’s real owner.

“One of them left for Bombay and never returned. The other died,” pointed out Yousuf, who is pushing the litigation after the death of the original litigant, his father Essa Jumma. “Later, a man suddenly emerged claiming to be the son-in-law of the late Maharaj.”

Building over shanties

At some point in the past seven decades, the hearings on this lawsuit stopped and the tenants were requested to deposit the monthly rent of Rs5 directly to the court.

“So far, I remember the status of the case is the same for the past many decades,” a court official, who is responsible for looking after old case records in the Sindh High Court’s Record Room, told The Express Tribune. Behind him lie the locked-up large iron cupboards that touch the ceiling. Here the oldest case files are preserved for record. In one such cupboard lies the rotting heavy file of Suit No. 16/1941. This is the oldest case still alive in the official records since it has yet to be decided even after 73 years.

Meanwhile, the compound now houses concrete, multi-storied structures built by the tenants, with the makeshift shanty huts buried deep down to accommodate the growing families. “Initially, there were 62 families. Now, they are multiplied into 500 persons living in the narrow, but tall buildings,” said Yousuf. “The compound has become too small to accommodate the third generation.”

Rented for pennies

The Rs5-rent that the families have been paying is still a cause for concern for them as they believe they have earned the right of ownership. Yousuf showed old receipts of the rent his father paid that he still holds on to for records. Some receipts issued as early as 1931 show the monthly rent of Rs2 only.

“Over the years, the rent has increased from Rs2 to Rs5 per month,” said a court official, who regularly receives the monthly rent from  the tenant families and gives it to Malik Yousuf, the man who claims to be the son-in-law of the Hindu landlords who left Pakistan. The court official said Malik claimed to have married the landlord’s daughter.

“I’ve been receiving the rent every month for a large part of my life,” admitted the court official, who wished to remain anonymous. The government has raised minimum rent to Rs10 but this case still goes on, he added.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 15th,2014.


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