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ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) directed the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to seal Monal Restaurant and take control of the Navy Golf Course built on an encroached land.

A single bench of Chief Justice Athar Minallah, on Tuesday, issued the directions, while hearing a case related to encroachments in Margalla Hills National Park, while it also declared the military’s claim over 8,000 acres land of the park as illegal.

The chief justice noted in his written order that Pakistan Navy has encroached upon State land including the notified area of the National Park by unauthorisedly and illegally establishing a golf course outside the allocated sector E-8. The construction on the encroached land and establishing a golf course was and continues to be illegal, without lawful authority and jurisdiction.

He directed, “The purported Navy Golf Course shall forthwith be sealed and its possession handed over to the CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board.”

“The construction on the encroached land of Navy Golf Course shall be demolished within four weeks from the date of the order unless it can be utilized for an environmentally friendly activity,” maintained Justice Minallah.

He also ordered that the CDA and Islamabad Wildlife Management Board shall jointly restore the encroached land of Navy Golf Course as part of the National Park. Secretary, Ministry of Defence shall conduct an inquiry and fix responsibility of officials/persons involved in trespassing and encroaching upon the State land for unauthorisedly and illegally establishing the Navy Golf Course.

The IHC bench further said that the secretary, Ministry of Defence shall conduct a forensic audit through the Auditor General of Pakistan to ascertain the loss caused to the exchequer and the same shall be recovered from the officials/persons found responsible.

It further said that the claim of Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate of Pakistan Army, regarding 8,068 acres of land in the notified National Park area is in violation of the Ordinance of 1979 read with the Ordinance of 1960 and the Master Plan. The claim is also not in conformity with the enforced laws applicable to the management of lands for the use of the Armed Forces.

According to the court order, the federal government was bereft of jurisdiction to allow the Directorate to use 8,068 acres of land in the notified National Park area. The Directorate has neither jurisdiction nor the authority to own, use or keep in possession any land within the notified National Park area.

It mentioned that the Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate had no jurisdiction or authority to execute the purported agreement, dated 30 September 2019 with Monal Restaurant. The rent recovered by the Directorate from Monal Restaurant was also without lawful authority and jurisdiction. The secretary, Ministry of Defence shall ensure that the rent received by the Directorate is recovered and deposited in the exchequer within 60 days from the date of the order.

It continued that the lease agreement of Monal Restaurant with the CDA had expired and its agreement, dated 30 September 2019 with the Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate was void and without any legal effect.

The court directed that the CDA and the IWMB shall forthwith take over possession of Monal Restaurant and thereafter, seal its premises subject to allowing its owner/management to take out its property.

It also directed, the chairman of the CDA shall undertake an inquiry to identify the officials responsible for the construction of Monal Restaurant and other buildings in the protected area of the National Park in violation of the Act of 1997, Ordinance of 1960, Ordinance of 1966, Ordinance of 1979 and the regulations made under the respective statutes. The Board of the Authority shall thereafter proceed against the officials in accordance with law.

The bench continued that the secretary, Ministry of Climate Change and the Director General, Environmental Protection Agency shall jointly conduct a survey of Monal Restaurant and other buildings constructed in the area to assess the damage caused to the environment and thereafter take such measures and actions as may be necessary to avoid further environmental degradation.

It maintained that the report and recommendations of the Commission, which forms an integral part of this judgment, shall be forthwith examined by the secretary, Ministry of Climate Change. The Commission headed by Dr Pervez Hassan, Sr ASC is hereby converted to Implementation Commission. The Secretary, Ministry of Climate Change shall coordinate with the chair of the Implementation Commission. The recommendations, after deliberations, shall be placed before the federal government i.e. the worthy prime minister and Members of the Cabinet for approval.

Justice Minallah noted, “The prestige and special status of the Armed Forces is of paramount importance for the people of Pakistan. The Secretary, Ministry of Defence and Chairman of the Capital Development Authority shall ensure that no controversy is created in future regarding non-implementation of the enforced laws within the three sectors allocated for the use of the branches of the Armed Forces in the Islamabad Capital Territory. The aforementioned officials shall submit their respective compliance reports to the Registrar of the Court within thirty days from the date of the order.”

The court declared that biodiversity, ecosystems and natural habitats are possessed of life and thus, living organisms. Life, whether that of human or other living beings, depends on existence of biodiversity, ecosystems and natural habitats. Protection of ecosystems and natural habitats is inextricably linked to right to life guaranteed under Article 9 of the Constitution. Protection of ecosystems and natural habitats is a constitutional obligation of the State, its institutions and every public functionary.

It maintained that the destruction of the National Park is violative of the fundamental rights of the people of Pakistan and saving it from further harm an inviolable duty of the State, its institutions and the public functionaries. The Federal Government, Capital Development Authority and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board shall be severally and jointly liable for any further destruction of the National Park.

The IHC bench directed that the federal government, the CDA and the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board shall jointly ensure that no further unauthorized activity, construction or acts in any other manner take place or are undertaken within the notified area of the National Park.

It added that the respective secretaries of the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Interior and chairman of the CDA shall jointly conduct a survey and demarcate the unharmed area of the notified National Park. The survey and demarcation shall be completed within sixty days from the date of this order. They will ensure that no activity or construction is allowed within the notified National Park.

The court directed the secretary, Ministry of Defence to ensure that the enforced laws are strictly implemented in the three sectors allocated for the use of the branches of the Armed Forces. The chairman of the CDA shall forthwith advise the secretary, Ministry of Defence regarding the enforced and applicable laws.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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