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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court of Pakistan, expressing dissatisfaction over the defence secretary’s report, questioned the construction of cinemas, marriage halls, and schools on the land allotted to the military for defence purpose.

A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, on Tuesday, heard the case related to the commercial activities in Cantonment areas.

The bench on the request of the Attorney General allowed the Federation to withdraw the report.

The chief justice questioned; “How can the army carry out commercial activities on State land?”

He said the State land should not be “exploited”. He said that the cantonment land had to be returned to the government after defence objectives were met.

Defence Secretary (retired) Lt Gen Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain said that a joint committee of all three armed forces had been formed to check violations of the law.

The court noted that shopping malls had also been built on defence land in Lahore and Quetta, saying; “It is not clear how the Ministry of Defence will sustain these activities?”

He asked the AGP who told the army about the law regarding use of military land.

“The army should not compromise on its bigger objectives for petty business,” Justice Qazi Amin remarked, adding that the military should be mindful of the sanctity of its own institution.

The chief justice observed that cinemas, petrol pumps, housing societies, shopping malls, and marriage halls were being constructed on land meant for defence purpose. He said if they allow the army then how could they direct the others to demolish the illegal constructions?

The chief justice stated: “The law’s intention is not that defence land is used for any other purpose.”

“If [the land] is not being used for defence then it will go back to the government,” he added.

“General Sahib, these are not defence purposes,” he told the defence secretary, asking the attorney general to explain how the Defence Ministry would “limit the land’s use to defence”.

The chief justice stated that schools and marriage halls had also been built on land of Faisal Base in Karachi. “It is being said that Masroor and Korangi airbases are being shut and [perhaps] commercial activities will be started there,” he added.

The CJP further said that “allotting houses to senior army officers does not fall under the defence purposes.”

The defence secretary informed the Court that the commercial activities on the military land promoted the welfare and boosted the morale of the army deployed on borders during peace times.

Upon that, the chief justice remarked; “Mr Secretary, everything is fine, but where is the cantonment there?” “There are houses everywhere. If commercial use of land is being termed as strategic, then what does ‘defence purposes’ mean.”

The CJP said the Canteen Stores Department (CSD) was turned into an open commercial departmental store, adding the buildings were being erected overnight in the cantonment. “Let us know what do you intend to do [to end commercialisation],” he said. The secretary said that an inter-services committee has been established to take notice of violations on the military land.

The CJP asked how the Defence Ministry was planning to take the land back as it has now been sold multiple times.

He stated; “Your army officials bought the land, sold it to someone else, and left.”

Copyright Business Recorder, 2021

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