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EDITORIAL: Taking up on a petition against violation of a stay order regarding allotment of plots in two new sectors in Islamabad by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) last September, Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah had suspended the allotment of 4,723 plots, including 1,704 measuring one kanal each — reserved for senior bureaucrats and judges — and directed the federal government to formulate a policy on the subject.

The court had also observed that beneficiaries of the land, forcibly taken from their rightful owners, included those who have been convicted or dismissed from service on charges of corruption or misconduct. That led to an intra-court appeal, but without waiting for the outcome, the FGEHA filed two petitions before the Supreme Court against the IHC’s initial order.

During Thursday’s hearing of the case by a three-member SC bench, headed by Justice Umar Ata Bandial, the petitioner’s counsel claimed that a new policy has already been submitted to the IHC. Raising a very pertinent question the court asked him, what then was the problem if the government had framed a new policy? The problem seems to be that rather than based on fairness it is designed to serve the self-interest of those in positions of power. Anxious about what may lie in store they have approached the apex court to have restrained the IHC from announcing its reserved verdict on the intra-court appeal.

The SC bench, however, directed the counsel to submit the government’s new guidelines for the allotment of plots. The court, of course, has to decide the case on merit. As a general proposition, however, considering that various government and private organisations have established housing societies, and also the fact that the real estate developers and speculators have pushed the land prices out of the reach of salaried class, there seems to be no harm in awarding residential plots to government employees as long as these are used for the intended purpose, and the entitlement is premised on clearly stated terms.

More often than not, such plots are used for making easy money, loads of it, rather than building a house. As the honourable Justice Minallah had remarked a plot being given for just Rs 0.4 million is worth 50 million in the market. This spoils system is evidently unfair and hence unacceptable.

The new policy should contain conditions for awarding of a plot, such as that only those can benefit from this or any other government housing scheme who do not own any other plot, and setting of a time limit for house construction or sale of the plot.

The provincial governments also need to urgently formulate their respective policies for regulating the affairs of real estate sector. As the SC campaign to remove illegal constructions in Karachi has amply demonstrated, some unscrupulous builders have put up all kinds of residential and commercial building on public lands with the connivance of the relevant government departments’ officials, leaving the unsuspecting buyers see their dreams of owning a home go up in clouds of dust and concrete.

In other cases, certain real estate developers have taken over lands from citizens against their will for posh housing projects. Then there are many other instances of people being defrauded into investing in non-existent housing societies. All such illegal and immoral practices must come to an end.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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