Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Friday grilled the defence secretary after the powerful military was found using “strategic and defence” land for commercial activities such as renting out to wedding parties and cinemas. A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice of Pakistan Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Qazi Mohammad Amin Ahmed and Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was hearing the issue of military lands being used for commercial purposes at the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry.
Dawn newspaper reported that the CJP grilled the defence secretary, retired Lt Gen Mohammad Hilal Hussain, over commercial use of military land, asking whether structures like “cinemas and wedding halls” were built for defence purposes. “This land was given to you for strategic and defence [purposes and yet] you have started commercial activities on it,” he said. “Were wedding halls, cinemas and housing societies built for defence purposes?” the chief justice asked. He remarked that all Askari Housing Projects, popularly called Army Housing Scheme Defence, had been built on cantonment lands. “We have decided that this will not happen again,” the defence secretary said, adding that the construction of housing societies and commercial use of military land would be checked and stopped. At this, Justice Amin asked Hussain how that would be made possible and where the process would start. The judge asked him to provide a written explanation.
The chief justice commented that colonels and majors were acting like kings. “What the colonels and majors desire, happens,” he said. “Go and tell all the chiefs [of the armed forces] that the land meant for defence purposes will not be used for commercial objectives. Go to all the military cantonments and tell them the land will be used only for strategic purposes,” CJP Ahmed ordered the defence secretary. He also said that commercial activities were underway at Masroor Base and Faisal Base in Karachi and buildings had been erected when orders were given to remove the signboards.
The bench asked Hussain whether he had a written report regarding the matter, at which the secretary requested more time to submit the same. The court adjourned the hearing until November 30, saying it would take place in Islamabad and also ordered that a written report be submitted. While hearing the case on Wednesday, the chief justice had stated that the conversion of cantonment land into private land seemed to be in direct contravention of the Cantonment Act, 1924, Cantonment Land Rules, 1937, and various constitutional provisions and the issue needed to be heard and decided by the court. The bench had expressed resentment over director cantonment and military land, Karachi region, Adil Rafi Siddiqui, over such activities within the jurisdiction of cantonment boards and also sought a report from him about a wall being built on the premises of a park in Defence Housing Authority Phase-I, according to the Dawn newspaper.