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Govt Asks SC For Relief To Bahria Town

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Beleaguered by protests over its forced eviction of indigenous villagers in Karachi, Bahria Town is now getting support from the federal government as well. The PTI government, acting under explicit instructions of Prime Minister Imran Khan, has asked the Supreme Court of Pakistan to grant relief to Malik Riaz’s Bahria Town in depositing installments of the Rs. 460 billion that the apex court ordered the developer to pay as fine in March 2019. The Law Ministry, through the Attorney General’s office, pleaded before the Supreme Court that the installments – received every three months from Bahria Town – should be forgiven in exchange for land in Karachi.

In a document submitted to the SC, the Attorney General’s office said that this was being done at the behest of the Law Ministry, which had been instructed by the Prime Minister’s Office.

Law Ministry letter to Attorney General’s office dated 26th April 2021, conveying instructions from Prime Minister’s Office to plead at Supreme Court for leniency towards Bahria Town.

The document states that Bahria Town (BTPL) had submitted a proposal to the Naya Pakistan Housing Development Authority (NAPHDA) for low-cost housing schemes in Karachi on 29 March 2021. According to the proposal, Malik Riaz’s company would build 3,000 low-cost apartments in Islamabad and 2,000 in Karachi, and hand them over to the government. NAPHDA gave its opinion on the proposal just two days later on 31 March, and then the Prime Minister’s Office asked the Law Ministry on 9 April to act on it.

The letter from the Law Ministry states that a memorandum of understanding is “likely” to be signed between Bahria Town and NAPHDA. The letter states that the Law Ministry asked NAPHDA whether Bahria Town was a significant player in the construction sector, to which NAPHDA answered in the affirmative.

The letter suggested that if the Supreme Court considers Bahria Town’s March 2021 application, the federal government ought to take the position that the court should grant a waiver to the management of Bahria Town in the matter of installment payments while the applicable deadline should not be affected. It must be clarified that the government has maintained it has no objection to the decision to withdraw the full amount from Malik Riaz’s company by 2026, as instructed by the court.

The Law Ministry, through the Attorney General’s office, has sought a revision in the apex court’s verdict on the Karachi Bahria Town case; it has now asked the court to grant relief to Malik Riaz’s company, which is one of the country’s largest construction firms.

It may be recalled that in a May 2018 judgment, the Supreme Court of Pakistan had pointed out large-scale irregularities in the acquisition of land by property tycoon Malik Riaz for his Bahria Town housing projects in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Murree. The SC ruled that the transfers and exchanges land between MDA, Sindh government and BTPL were illegal and void ab initio. The court also decreed that fresh grants of land to Bahria Town Karachi could be made under terms and conditions, as well as price, to be determined by a special implementation bench of the SC. Later in March 2019, the apex court accepted Bahria Town’s review petition in which it offered to pay Rs. 460bn for the purchase of land measuring 16,896 acres in Malir, Karachi, but on certain terms and conditions.

It is also pertinent to mention that in July 2020, the Sindh High Court was informed by the Sindh Building Control Authority (SCBA) that all construction activities by Bahria Town in Karachi were illegal. Then in September 2020, Bahria Town Karachi (BTLK) submitted an application to a special three-member bench of the Supreme Court requesting deferment in the installment payments for one year due to the COVID pandemic. The petition – filed by BTLK counsel Barrister Ali Zafar, now a PTI Senator – was deemed non-maintainable, as the SC judgment of March 2019 was a court order and not an agreement.

Since April 2021, Bahria Town Karachi has again been in the spotlight: this time for forcibly occupying land in Malir and manhandling the villagers who’ve lived there for generations. When villagers resisted, Bahria Town officials resorted to firing on them, injuring at least two. Bahria Town’s latest antics are ignored by the state which appears to be more complicit than hapless; this has resulted in a groundswell of public support for Malir’s indigenous villagers, and a movement called ‘Karachi Bachao Tehreek’ is campaigning against the demolition of working-class settlements throughout the urban metropolis. Increased public pressure and social media backlash forced the Sindh government to take action against Bahria Town.

 

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