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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court cancelled the allotment of the 200-acre Gutter Baghicha land to the employees of the KMC Cooperative Society.

A two-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, on Tuesday, heard the case pertaining to land allotment to the KMC employees. It said that the KMC cannot allot land to its own employees.

The court directed the administrator KMC to immediately recover the encroached land. It declared the Sindh government’s approval for the construction of the society illegal. It noted that the approval seemed to be given by the section officer on behalf of the provincial government. “There is no mention of the competent authority in it,” it added. The chief justice said according to the law the land could be given only for educational, religious, and welfare purposes. “Giving the land to a housing society does not serve any [of the above] purposes.”

The court observed that the Cooperative Society is neither a person, nor organization or government department. Giving land to the Housing Society is not for welfare purpose, it added. The cooperative society lawyer informed that the KMC had allotted the land to 80 percent of its employees, and over 300,000 people are living in the society.

He requested the bench to think of the widows and their young children.

The top court replied that it has to take into account the basic rights of the people of Karachi. “Widows are getting their dues in the form of pensions.” The KMC lawyer argued that the amount is not sufficient for them to build a house.

The chief justice said that the societies of several departments including railways have been razed, adding the KMC has no authority to give land to its employees. He questioned: “Can we (judges) give the Supreme Court land to its employees?” then said; “No because the land can only come to use of the court. Not even the judges.”

In the last hearing, the chief justice had directed the authorities to immediately restore Gutter Baghicha and remove all the encroachment construction on the land. He has also ordered the removal of Murtaza Wahab as the administrator of Karachi.

According to Shehri, an NGO, the KMC Officers Cooperative Housing Society (KMC OCHS) illegally secured 200 acres for itself. In 1993, it filed a petition in the Supreme Court under Article 184(3) of the Constitution against the conversion of Gutter Baghicha amenity land to industrial, residential, and commercial use.

Shehri feared that turning Gutter Baghicha into plots would destroy the environment. Five other NGOs joined Shehri in the effort to save Gutter Baghicha. The case in the Supreme Court was disposed of in 2003. The city district government of Karachi (CDGK) promised to reach an understanding with citizens and NGOs. The SC directed the CDGK to report back on how it had followed these orders after three months.

However, more parts of Gutter Baghicha disappeared in the following two years as people surreptitiously took over its green space.

In 2005, Shehri filed a contempt of court case against the CDGK. And then, three years later, again, in 2008, Shehri filed a fresh case against the CDGK, the Karachi Building Control Authority, the Sindh government, and others.

Shehri kept filing contempt petitions over the years but a major development came only in 2018 when the 200 acres illegally given to KMC OCHS were cancelled.

In March 2020, the Karachi Metropolitan Corporation announced that it had retrieved 362 acres of government land from grabbers. The statement, ironically, claimed that the land belonged to the KMC Officers Society and City Park located near Gutter Bagicha in Old Golimar in District West.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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