Islamabad - Several serving and retired government officers residing in the cantonment localities in different parts of the country have appealed to Federal Ombudsman Salman Farooqui to take suo moto action against the alleged harassment of residents at the hands of the Cantonment Boards’ concerned, it is learnt.

The Senate Defence Committee on Defence and Defence Production has although taken exception to the rising complaints from the residents of the Cantonment Boards, there has been no letup in the instances involving alleged highhandedness on part of these boards, particularly those in Abbottabad, Wah Cant and Rawalpindi.

The Military Lands and Cantonments (ML&C) department, being administered by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), was previously outside the purview of the Federal Ombudsman. With the recently passed Federal Ombudsman Institutional Reforms Act 2013, the Federal Ombudsman stands empowered to take suo moto notice of and initiate action against any mal administration involving MoD or its subordinate departments.

A senior bureaucrat serving at a Federal Government department said, the government servants are entitled to 60 percent tax exemption on their rental property located at any Cantonment Board but the Cantonment Boards do not inform the property owners about this exemption. Likewise, the officer said, the retired government servants are allowed 100 percent exemption on their rented income up to June 2012.

“The Cantonment Board’s officials insist that this exemption will not be allowed to those government servants who have not applied for it (exemption) every year. Besides, most of the complaints against the Cantonment Boards relate to the unjust imposition of taxes without any notice or prior intimation and issuance of sudden notices for forcible recovery or getting the house attached through a magistrate or a senior civil judge who never listens to the complainants because the senior civil judges are officially entitled to two percent of the recovery collection charges,” the officer informed. “All this melodrama is staged to gobble money from the residents in the form of bribe using intimidating tactics. This is height of injustice,” he alleged.

When contacted on Tuesday, Director General ML&C Major General Tahir Masood refused to comment on the issue. His staff officer said that the general did not talk to media, asking this scribe to contact Additional DG ML&C Raja Nadir Ali for the department’s official version. The Nation called at the additional DG’s office thrice on Tuesday, only to be told that he was not on his seat and was busy in an official meeting and he would return the call, which did not happen till filing of this report.

The cantonment executive officers (CEOs), a retired federal secretary, said, do not address complaints from the aggrieved persons the same way the magistrates or civil judges do not accept any arguments regarding issuance of recovery notices without prior intimation. “These boards practically have no appellate system and a director appointed for deciding appeals, always decides cases in favour of Cantonment Board’s administration. Nothing can be done against their excesses because serving army officers up to the ranks of station commanders and DG protect the Cantonment Boards managements. Corruption is rampant in the boards, particularly in Abbottabad and Rawalpindi,” he alleged.

During its hearing on March 4 this year, the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production had expressed strong displeasure over the reportedly ‘inhuman’ treatment meted out at the lawmakers as well as the civilians in cantonment localities, particularly in Abbottabad and Peshawar. The committee had taken up the issue after the MoD showed negligence in taking any action against this practice. “If lawmakers are treated this way, I wonder how would the ordinary public be treated,” the committee’s Chairman Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed had remarked then. “Such inhuman treatment must be stopped and the authorities concerned at the cantonment localities must mend their fences before we recommend a strong action against them,” he had observed.

In the same hearing, the defence committee members were stunned when informed that the ML&C department had decided to cancel the lease deed of allottees of 25 plots of land allotted to them through open bidding in 1998 by the Punjab government at the site of the old jail and that the entire chunk of the land will be acquired by it under the Land Acquisition Act 1984.

Senator Farhatullah Babar had questioned the justification of this act when the owners had made full payment.