ISLAMABAD  - The Islamabad High Court (IHC) Monday directed secretary defence, secretary establishment division and director general (DG) military lands and cantonment (ML&C) to submit their reply in a petition of 48 officers of the ML&C who have challenged the appointment of a serving Major General Mazhar Saleem Khan as Director General (DG) ML&C.

A single bench of IHC comprising Justice Shaukat Aziz Siddiqui issued these directions in a petition of some 48 officers of ML&C who moved the court through their counsel Asma Jehangir calling the appointment a usurping upon the rights of ML&C officers that is a civilian occupational group.

After issuing the aforementioned directions, the court deferred the hearing in this matter till first week of July.

The petitioners who are the officers of ML&C and executive officers of the cantonment boards around the country argued before the court that the post of DG ML&C is a pinnacle of promotion for the officers of the department that is usurped by a deputationist major general.

“The appointment of Maj Gen Mazhar Saleem Khan vide letter for appointment on deputation dated July 19, 2013, whether serving or retired, is against the provisions of cantonment act 1924, cantonment land administration rules 1937 and civil servants act 1973, and constitutes a blatant breach of constitution of the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, besides being an open transgression of a civil department and infringement of the rights of the civil servants,” maintained the officers.

They contended that the department of ML&C is the successor of cantonment department formed in 1924 which was founded as the custodian of the state land under the use of armed forces and it was duty-bound to see that the lands are properly used by the armed forces only for defence purposes and this was the primary reason to free it from the military control. The other reason to form the ML&C as a civilian controlled institution was that it was mandated to control the affairs of civilian living inside the cantonments and prevent their direct handling by the military authorities.

“The civilian officers were appointed, initially as inspector and deputy inspectors in 1924 and since 1927 their nomenclature changed to directors and deputy directors respectively which remained till 1988 when the post of director was upgraded and re-designated as DG ML&C and those of deputy directors as directors. Since 1936 no military officer was appointed to the subject department,” they added.

They continued that a DO letter dated April 15, 1994 was addressed to then prime minister for the placement of ML&C under GHQ and also craved for the box seat of the department i.e. the post of DG ML&C by appointment of serving major general as DG ML&C. The Prime Minister Secretariat called for comments from the ministry of defence which was submitted to the PM secretariat. While the matter was under consideration there was yet another DO letter dated August 24, 1994 addressed to then PM Benazir Bhutto requesting favourable consideration of his earlier DO letter.

The petitioner informed the court that the then PM formed a committee under the chairmanship of additional secretary-II which held its meeting on September 15, 1994. It was participated by DG ML&C, finance advisor military finance, director general management services division, joint secretary establishment division and director Quartering QMG’s branch, GHQ.

They further told that the meeting concluded with a note of consensus on the subject that the post of DG ML&C is a cadre post of ML&C group and under the existing rules a serving major general cannot be appointed as DG ML&C.

The committee in March 1995 forwarded a summary to the prime minister that said, “The committee appointed for the said purpose has unanimously opposed including the members of Armed forces except that of the military, the proposal for placement of the ML&C department under its control on the premise that it was against the management system, the services users cannot be made custodian of the state land and that the armed forces are not a services group under the civil servants act and as such posting of a serving major general as DG ML&C is outside the realm of possibility and also unfair.”

The petitioners said that the ministry of defence proposed two measures one that the affairs pertaining to the ML&C department be assigned to additional secretary ministry of defence who happens to be a serving major general and the other cancellation of the letter dated August 06, 1964.

They added that thereafter military officers having usurped the department have been started to be appointed as DG ML&C in the wake of takeover by General (Retd) Pervez Musharraf in 1999. And since then the present incumbent DG is the 7th major general holding the post of DG ML&C.

The petitioners referred to a Supreme Court judgement dated June 12, 2013 that says, “Non-civil servants could not be appointed on deputation to any cadre of government.”

They said historically the cantonment administration has been transforming from military control except for matters pertaining to health, welfare and discipline of troops.

The petitioners mentioned that the cantonment act was introduced to the legislative assembly on March 26, 1923 and it received the assent of viceroy on February 16, 1924.

They have also quoted from the speech of then commander in chief General Lord Rawlinson that he made in the Council of State on February 14, 1924.

“The supervision of cantonment affairs of a strictly municipal character will pass into the hands of the civil government of the provinces in the which the cantonment is situated; and the cantonment board in all important cantonments will contain a considerable proportion of elected representatives to safeguard the interests of the civil population,” said Lord Rawlinson.

General Rawlinson had further said, “The special powers which it is proposed to retain for the military authorities need not, for my present purpose, be described in detail. I have already indicated generally what they are. They are powers in respect of matters affecting the health, the welfare and the discipline of troops. I must explain that we do not propose to take any new powers we proposes only to retain, out of the provisions of existing.”