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Cabinet questions land acquiring policy of MoH&W

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Cabinet members reportedly grilled Ministry of Housing and Works (MoH&W) for exploiting...
15 Sep 2021

ISLAMABAD: The Federal Cabinet members reportedly grilled Ministry of Housing and Works (MoH&W) for exploiting poor land owners to acquire their land for bureaucrats in particular, well-informed sources told Business Recorder. The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has suspended balloting of plots in F- 14 and F- 15 across the board.

On September 7, 2021, Housing and Works Division briefed the Cabinet that in the case titled Asif Parvez, etc. versus Land Acquisition Collector ICT, etc. W.P. No. 2949/2027, the Islamabad High Court had directed "to seek instructions from the Federal Government i.e., Prime Minister and members of the Federal Cabinet regarding its policy and criterion pursuant whereof the State land is distributed amongst a few classes".

The Federal Government Employees Housing Foundation (FGEHF) was established with the approval of Federal Cabinet in 1990 and registered under section 4 of Companies Ordinance, 1984 to meet the challenges of shelterless-ness among FG Employees (BS 1-22), serving, retired and other specified groups. Since inception, the FGEHF commenced housing schemes for FG Employees. In January 2020, FGEHA was established through an Act of Parliament, to meet the housing needs of FG Employees.

The FGEHA launched projects on funds generated through contributions from the allottees of respective schemes, registered under Membership Drives from amongst FG Employees and other specified groups. Land acquisition, as well as, development expenditure was met out of these funds. No State land was provided by the government. No Government Exchequer was involved. FGEHA acts only as an administrative facilitator for FG Employees and other specified groups.

The FGEHA Act, 2020 Section 12(1) provides that "acquisition of any land or any interest in land for the purposes of the Authority shall be deemed to be an acquisition for public purposes within the meaning of the applicable Land Acquisition Act, 7894 (1894) or any other prevailing law for the said purpose, as per policy of the Federal Government".

FGEHA acquired land through Land Acquisition Act, 1894 U/S 4 and Joint Venture Policy approved by Federal Cabinet. Fair and just monetary compensation was extended through Section 16 of FGEHA Act, 2020. In addition to fair compensation on market price, land sharing formula was also offered as an alternative at the ratio of 1 Kanal developed Plot for 4 kanals of raw land. Built-up property award was to be announced as per rates determined by the Government (Pak. PWD).

The Ministry of Housing and Works, once FGEHA acquired land under the Land Acquisition Act, 1894, approved joint venture policy. Plots were allotted to FG employees and other specified groups on 'No Profit, No Loss basis' without any financial support from Federal Government. Age wise seniority was the main criterion for allotment of plots.

Ministry submitted the following recommendations to the Federal Cabinet for approval: (i)as provided in the FGEHA Act, 2020, land acquisition should continue; (ii) all allotments of plots would be made through FGEHA as per the laid down approved policy and criterion of the FGEHA Executive Board; (iii) allotment of second plot to BS-22 Officers & Superior Judiciary to be discontinued under the PM package as the FGEHA Executive Board is empowered to devise eligibility criteria and approve the policy under the FGEHA Act, 2020. However, the Establishment Division will continue to forward nominations; (v) Supreme Court Judges and employees' nominations would be provided by the Registrar, Supreme Court of Pakistan, with the approval of Chief Justice of Pakistan; (v) Islamabad High Court and lower judiciary nominations will be provided by the Registrar, Islamabad High Court, with the approval of the Chief Justice, Islamabad High Court; (vi) all constitutional and professional organizations will devise their own eligibility criteria in line with FGEHA policy and will provide nominations with the approval of the respective heads of the organizations; and (vii) Federal Government employees serving/ retired will obtain direct membership from FGEHA and will be considered as per age wise seniority.

The Federal Cabinet was requested to approve the recommendations and to allow Secretary Housing & Works to submit the approved recommendations to Islamabad High Court as per its directions.

During discussion, the members expressed serious reservations at the practice of acquiring private land for other than public purposes. It was regretted that poor land owners were being exploited to allot plots to bureaucrats and judges. Secretary, Housing & Works Division, clarified that though the FGEHA Act, 2020 empowered the Authority to acquire private land this was not done during the tenure of the present government. Even in cases where the land had been acquired in past, fair and just compensation was given to the land owners, which had been acknowledged by the Supreme Court.

It was pointed out that in the absence of CDA developing any sectors, the private developers had a virtual monopoly. The development of schemes by FGEHA, where 6000 new plots enjoyed public confidence over the land title and safety of investment, has affected the market for private developers. Thus, most of the litigations against FGEHA were being sponsored by these private real estate developers with vested interest. It was further noted that the instant case involved neither any state land nor the national exchequer.

While clarifying the issue of Prime Minister's package of 2006, it was explained that the erstwhile policy has long been rendered infructuous as the same was not operative. It was suggested to officially withdraw the said policy, as the same fell within the domain of the Executive Board of FGEHA.

It was also suggested that the matter should be referred to the Committee already constituted by the Cabinet while considering the case titled "directions of the Islamabad High Court in Writ Petition No. 244 of 2018 titled Noman Ahmed s/o Zulfiqar Ahmed and others Vs Capital Development Authority, Islamabad", in its meeting held on July 27, 2027. The Committee should give its policy recommendations to the Cabinet, which should include that land acquisition for housing schemes for the serving and retired government servants, should not be considered as public purpose for acquisition of private lands. Cabinet's permission was sought to submit factual position in the Court, in compliance of the Court direction.

After detailed discussion, the Cabinet referred the matter to the Committee already constituted by the Cabinet while considering the case titled "directions of the IHC in Writ Petition No. 244 of 2018 titled Noman Ahmed s/o Zulfiqar Ahmed and others Vs Capital Development Authority, Islamabad", in its meeting held on July 27, 2021. The Committee shall give its policy recommendations to the Cabinet.

The Cabinet further allowed the Secretary, Housing & Works to submit factual statement in the Court that no state land, and no government money was involved in the case under litigation, and that the Cabinet had assigned the task of coming up with clear policy proposals to the already formed Committee.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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