Supremacy of SC? - Ardeshir Cowasjee - Sunday 27th March 2011

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THE PPP government in Islamabad finds the lawful directives of the Supreme Court (SC) increasingly difficult to obey, and is putting bureaucrats and government servants into a quandary of non-compliance and dereliction of duty. Examples are: NICL, Pemra, NRO, NAB, ECP, HEC, FIA, etc.
A similar situation is emerging with the Sindh bureaucracy. Former Karachi nazim, Naimatullah Khan, petitioned the SC about the growing occupation of city amenity spaces for non-conforming use, highlighting political party offices, housing and commercial structures, and provided a sample list of around 164 ravaged amenity plots. On Feb 2, 2011, the court gave the city government (CDGK) one month to remove the offending structures.
Under pressure from the coalition government in Sindh, the CDGK put into play an elaborate bluff. While demolishing union council offices, libraries, utility store rooms and other similar structures built with taxpayer monies, the CDGK has ignored the hundreds of houses and commercial structures erected on amenity spaces by political land-grabbers.
Further, as a diversionary tactic it submitted lists of hundreds of mosques/madressahs that have occupied amenity spaces over the decades, and requested petitioner Naimatullah’s assistance in dealing with the removal of these ‘sensitive’ encroachments.
Simultaneously, the PPP tried to present a bill in the Sindh Assembly to ‘regularise’ all amenity plot conversions over the past 17 years. In a letter dated March 2, 2011 addressed to the law minister, Ayaz Soomro, MQM’s parliamentary leader, Syed Sardar Ahmad, stated: “…The Sindh Protection and Prohibition of Amenity Plots Bill 2009, which had been withdrawn on my intervention in the session of April 2010, was once again withdrawn on 21st February 2011, on drawing your attention to our last decision.
“It seems that efforts are still being made to reintroduce the bill as is evident from the enclosed clipping from Dawn of 28th February 2011. Since the matter stands closed as the bill had been withdrawn in April 2010 and the issue has been raised by the media, kindly ensure that it is not reintroduced in the House.
“It had been settled that amenity plots shall never be converted for any purpose other than the purpose for which these had been earmarked in the original layout plans of the schemes under the law as well as by the rulings of the hon’ble high court and the Supreme Court. Any move to reintroduce it in the House shall be opposed by our party.
“You would appreciate that in view of the Hon’ble Supreme Court’s recent order to remove all structures from the public parks, how could the assembly be authorised to convert amenity plots for residential or commercial purposes?
“I do hope that bill no 7 of 2009, and for that matter any bill that seeks to violate the sanctity of the amenity plots, shall not be brought back for the consideration of the assembly, as such attempt shall be resisted.”
Earlier, when bill no 7/2009 was introduced, Sardar Ahmad on April 18, 2010 wrote to the minister emphasising that: “The big towns with sprawling population that is swelling everyday needs ‘lungs’ for the teeming millions.
It is interesting that in the year 1866, when a chaplain applied for the grant of plot PR-2, survey no 4-6 admeasuring 13,723 square yards for the construction of St Andrew’s Church on Preedy Street, Karachi, it was granted on condition that one-third area be used for church building, while two-thirds would remain a park/garden for ventilation and sanitation of the surrounding areas.
“Many land-grabbers, including clergy, have tried to utilise the open land for commercial purposes, but all their machinations were thwarted by me as commissioner Karachi and chief secretary Sindh. You will appreciate how concerned the collector and the commissioner in Sindh 144 years ago were to maintain open spaces for neighbouring residents, and we now want to authorise the assembly to utilise the amenity plots for other purposes. Is it not unfair on our part? Hence it is proposed to kindly withdraw the bill….”
The officials who have been ‘overseeing’ the SC-ordered demolition operations, DCO Mohammad Hussain Syed and Additional EDO (Revenue) Matanat Ali Khan, under whom the CDGK machinery and land-record department operates, are entirely aware of the exact nature of each and every encroachment on the 4,000-plus amenity plots in the city.
It is this very machinery that has ignored constant complaints from area residents, and has colluded with land-grabbers for pecuniary benefit. They are fully aware that 70 per cent of the encroachments on amenity spaces (the figure given to the SC) have not been removed.
Historical Google-Earth satellite-imagery shows the situations existing on amenity spaces on September 2010, January 2010, February 2009, April 2008, February 2007, February 2006 and as far back as February 2000, thus defining pretty much when various land-grabs took place.
In a few months, the judges will see which amenity plots were being occupied even while the hearings were going on in Islamabad, and while the CDGK was trying convince the court that Naimatullah’s public-interest litigation was not ‘adversarial’.
The grabbing/allotment of parks, playgrounds and amenity spaces has been sporadically continuing for decades, but the plunder has accelerated recently, and is now escalating into a free-for-all, SC case notwithstanding.
In Korangi’s Mehran Town, some 80 per cent of amenity spaces have been encroached for residential housing. Other areas experiencing such trauma include Surjani Town, Gadap (where satellite-images reveal a largely undeveloped scheme with the housing only on amenity plots), Baldia Town and North Nazimabad.
The SC needs the support and involvement of concerned citizens and residents. What do law-abiding citizens do? ‘Never say die’ and soldier on? For how long, we ask?

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