ISLAMABAD - The Supreme Court of Pakistan Thursday set aside a verdict of the Islamabad High Court (IHC) about acquisition of land by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) in sectors F-14 and F-15 from locals on cheaper rates.

A four-member special bench of the apex court led by Justice Mushir Alam and comprising Justice Umar Ata Bandial, Justice Qazi Faez Isa and Justice Ijazul Ahsan announced the verdict which it had reserved on January 14 this year. The beneficiaries of the housing scheme, in sectors F-14 and F-15 of the federal capital included judges, powerful bureaucrats, influential lawyers and journalists. The housing project was being undertaken by the Capital Development Authority (CDA) and the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) on land acquired from the local residents.

The apex court stated in the verdict that in the case in hand, this court has taken judicial notice of the Federal Government Employees Housing Society Act, 2020 passed by the Parliament on 15th January, 2020 as brought to the notice of the court.

It added that none of the parties took any exception to the new legislative regime leading to land acquisition by the Authority for the purpose and object set out in the preamble of the Act, 2020.

“Accordingly, we took notice of the change in law as regard to acquisition of land subject matter of present controversy. Examining the Act, 2020, it is noted that, it contains an elaborate procedure for enquiry, acquisition of land, payment and determination of compensation, vesting of property on issuance of notification and, right of appeal and all other incidental and ancillary matter relating to acquisition of land,” maintained the apex court.

It further said that under Section 3 thereof, the former Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation is now a body corporate having perpetual succession and is also a local authority in the “specified area”.

The court noted in its decision that all acts and actions of the FGEHF award of the contracts etc. are now also protected by virtue of deeming clause contained in Section 24(a) and further by virtue of Section 29 which reads as follows, “All acts done or taken by the Foundation, before the commencement of this Act, shall be deemed to have been validly done or have been taken under this Act to the extent they are consistent with the provisions of this Act.”

It declared, “In view of the forgoing discussion and determination of points noted in the leave granting order dated 6.12.2018, Civil Appeals No. 1476 to 1485 of 2018 stand allowed. Impugned consolidated judgments dated 04.7.2018 in Intra Court Appeals No. I.C.A.365/2017, I.C.A.366/2017, I.C.A.367/2017, I.C.A.368/2017 I.C.A.365/2017, I.C.A.365/2017, I.C.A.22/2018, I.C.A.23/2018 and I.C.A.24/2018 are set aside, consequently, consolidated judgments dated 23.10.2017 rendered in W.P. No. 2128/2015, W.P No. 3496/2015, and W.P No’s 308 to 310/2016 are also set aside, resultantly all the Writ Petitions noted herein stand dismissed.”

However, Supreme Court judge Justice Qazi Faez Isa, in his additional note, declared that laws governing civil and armed forces personnel do not entitle them to receive residential plots, commercial plots or agricultural land.

Justice Isa stated, “If residential plots, commercial plots and agricultural land are given to only one category in the service of Pakistan that is to members of the armed forces, and the civilians in the service of Pakistan are disregarded, it constitutes discrimination and offends the fundamental right of equality.”

Justice Isa added that a foundation, a government or an organization controlled by a government, may launch a housing scheme for the members of the Armed Forces, and when this happens they may apply for the allotment of a single plot for housing.

“But, they like every other applicant of such schemes will have to pay the requisite amount (not subsidized by the state), stand in queue and await their turn for allotment in terms of the applicable methodology. And, the plot which is allotted/granted must not be large because available land is finite and the list of beneficiaries is long, and keeps growing longer,” said the judge.

He added that the prevailing practice of granting State/public plots and land to members of the Armed Forces is contrary to the Constitution and the law. Laws can also not be enacted to enable such allotments/grants because if enacted these would violate the Constitution (Articles 24, 25, 205 and 227). The Constitution does not permit self-enrichment and personal aggrandizement.

Justice Isa mentioned, “During the period of Hazrat Umar (RA) at one occasion such a situation had arisen with regard to some land and the Mujahideen demanded distribution of the said land to them but the Caliph refused to give the said land to the Mujahideen with the consideration that Islam strictly prohibits the establishment of an individual interest in State property in preference to the public interest.”

In this matter, the IHC incumbent Chief Justice Athar Minallah had decided in 2017 the petitions filed by the locals against the acquisition of their land by FGEHA and asked the CDA to take over the development of housing schemes in the areas and to judiciously dispense the plots after developing the two sectors.

Later, a division bench of the IHC dismissed an appeal filed by FGEHA against the verdict after which the federal authority approached the apex court against the high court order.