SC orders CDA: Farmhouses be reverted to agricultural lands

ISLAMABAD, April 18: The party is over for the hundreds of rich influential people who have converted agro-farmlands around Islamabad into their own, private, palatial abodes.

On Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to restore all 504 farmhouses to agricultural land within three weeks—thus reflecting the status of the original leases, which was meant to ensure agricultural produce from the areas around the capital.

“Undo everything without any ifs and buts,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhary ordered the CDA.

Some of the bigwigs who own these palatial farmhouses include former president Pervez Musharraf, former prime minister Shaukat Aziz, former Senate chairman Mohammadmian Soomro, PML (Q) chief Chaudhry Shujaat Hussain, Senator Wasim Sajjad, former senator Dr Shahzad Waseem, Makhdoom Amin Fahim, Raja Nadir Pervez and several retired senior army officers.

The land was originally awarded to people displaced by the development of the capital. The aim was to rehabilitate the displaced, and ensure that they grow agri-products, fruits, vegetables and poultry, and supply them to the citizens of Islamabad.

Over time, however, the lands were sold by the displaced to rich influential people, who converted them into mansions, wedding halls, or offices—all taking up more space than originally allowed by the CDA.

That is why the Supreme Court has now decided that the land occupied by the farmhouses must follow the same rules and regulations applicable at the time when these agro-farms were awarded to the displaced persons.
The original lease agreement allows tenants to raise a single storey construction on a covered area ranging between 2,500 to 4,000 square feet. But a May 17, 1994 CDA board meeting passed a resolution legalising the construction of infrastructure on a larger area—namely 10,000 square feet. Despite the increase, however, farmhouse owners went ahead and built infrastructure on areas exceeding 12,500 square feet.

In a fresh campaign against violators, the CDA has demolished 12 buildings on agro-farmhouses out of a total of 19 owners who raised construction on excess areas. Three of the 19 got stay orders from the high court, whereas four of the areas belonged to
the original displaced persons of Islamabad.

Of the 504 farmhouses, 300 are still without any construction although agro-farming, in one way or the other, is being done in the suburban areas of Islamabad, including Chak Shahzad, Murree Road, Kahuta Road, Tarlai Kalan and Sector H-9.

But what displeased the three-member Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry was an attempt on the part of the CDA to give legal cover to the resolution adopted during the May 1994 board meeting by issuing a Statutory Regulatory Order (SRO) on March 21, 2013.

Although CDA’s Member Planning Mustafain Kazmi informed the court that a fresh summary had been prepared to be taken up by another board meeting in the near future to reduce the covered area from existing 10,000 square feet to 5,000, the court held the intention as tainted with malafide intentions.

It is not the job of the CDA to stretch rules or extend relaxations, or to compromise or facilitate influential people, said the chief justice. He also observed that imposing fines was an insufficient way to deal with the violations.

The chief justice said the CDA needed to consider the insincere intentions of the owners, and follow the rules strictly. He went on to say that he did not have time to call the chairman of the CDA to ensure that his orders were implemented.

The court went on to lament the withheld facts—and the lack of information on the status of the buildings raised on agro-farmhouses—many of which were being used as residential accommodations.

According to the chief justice, it was not alright to amend the rules and regulations for rich influential, and said that the notification of March 21, 2013 was an insufficient reason.

The court directed the CDA chairman to take personal interest in the matter by strictly adhering to the rules and regulations prevailing at the time when the allotment was made in favour of the affected people of Islamabad.

The chief justice directed the CDA to restore the original status of the farm houses in the interest of the general public.