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EDITORIAL: The Islamabad High Court’s (IHC’s) ruling that allotment of plots on subsidised rates to top judges, lawyers and bureaucrats was illegal, as well as its order that the government’s real estate entities should initiate housing projects for the general public, is definitely a landmark judgment and one that comes ‘better late than never’.

Deliberating upon identical petitions related to the allotment of plots by the Federal Government Employees Housing Authority (FGEHA) in the capital, the court ruled that projects in sectors F-14 and F-15, as well as upcoming sectors F-12 and G-12, were illegal. There were glaring anomalies in the registration process, and even selections made from about 135,000 registered members lacked transparency, it was noted.

The IHC division bench consisting of Chief Justice Athar Minallah and Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani was surprised to note, even though such things have become routine over time, that successful beneficiaries included senior members of the bureaucracy and serving and retired judges of the senior judiciary. In fact, every judge of the district judiciary of Islamabad was on the list.

But even that was not all. Judicial officers under observation because of either incompetence or questionable repute were also included, as were those who have been dismissed from service on disciplinary grounds or who opted out themselves.

In this way, according to the judgment, this subsidised allotment of plots, which cost the public exchequer something likeRs1 trillion, violated the fundamental rights of people at large rather than serve public interest. It also very rightly noted that “participation of a court or any of its judges in any scheme of the FGEHA or accepting its benefits are contrary to the public interest and not in conformity with the impartiality and independence of the judiciary as an institution… was inappropriate and not in conformity with the constitutional status of these exalted courts”.

Of course this is just the tip of the iceberg and once again the system has been exposed as aiding and abetting those with power and privilege at the cost of those without it. The hierarchy of the civil service has long been accused, and rightly so, of leveraging the state’s apparatus to entrench itself in power and shower itself with undue privileges.

And judges of the honourable courts are also being increasingly questioned about having some of the best perks in the world while the performance of the judiciary is among the worst; something that even the government has lately commented upon. Now the IHC, no less, has been forced to note that “it was definitely not permissible under the constitution for a judge or a court to be seen as usurping the fundamental rights of the people at large and become complacent to a policy formulated in breach of public interest”.

Not much can be done about the way such plots have been distributed over many decades, but now this practice will have to come to an end. The enrichment of a powerful few at the cost of common people and the exchequer has unfortunately gone on too long in this Islamic republic.

And now that the honourable court has put its foot down, hopefully a lasting precedent will be set. But it will also ruffle a lot of feathers and raise fresh questions; especially about similar (subsidised) benefits extended to members of other services as part of officially recognized and approved policy.

While some of these are clearly complicated matters and will require serious debate, there’s no doubt that organs of the federal government have been bending the law in favour of ambitious bureaucrats and judges and getting away with it right under the state’s nose. This ought to be seriously discomforting for a government making big claims about Naya Pakistan and Riyasat-e-Madina and promising to deliver affordable housing to the less privileged.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

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