Land misuse is a serious issue across Pakistan. The recently released cadastral map report conducted by the Survey of Pakistan had notified that approximately Rs5.5 trillion worth of state land of just three major cities – Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi – was encroached upon. It is this illegal utilization of land that had prompted the Supreme Court of Pakistan to launch an anti-encroachment drive in Karachi. And today the Nasla Tower is being demolished as we write, while residential units on the sides of Gujjar and Orangi Nullah have been reduced to debris. However, many question the apex court’s verdicts adversely affecting the average working-class citizens while the elite capture of massive lands goes unnoticed. But perhaps this is about to change. On Tuesday, Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed said that military land not being used for defence purposes should be returned to the government.
The CJP was hearing a case against the commercialization of military land and asked the Defence Secretary Lt. Gen. (R) Mian Mohammad Hilal Hussain to explain how this land could be used for defence purposes instead. Justice Gulzar stated that “this is government land”, noting that cinemas, petrol pumps, housing societies, shopping malls and marriage halls were being constructed on land meant for defence. The displeasure of the top court over misuse of military land opens the possibility of justice being served irrespective of one’s stature in the society. However, going by the past experience, the glimmer of hope would be rather short-lived.
This is not the first time that the commercialization of cantonment land has been questioned. It was, in fact, in 2014 when for the first time a parliamentary committee was set up to inspect the use of military land for commercial projects by the defence ministry. The then auditor general had pointed out similar concerns but no action was taken against it, resulting in business as usual. One then wonders what change would the hearing of this case now bring about. But the authorities concerned must be reminded that unless every citizen is treated in the same manner by the very courts established to serve justice, the elite capture of the country will not be lessened. No amount of anti-graft drives against the ‘corrupt families’ help either.