ISLAMABAD – The Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Monday withdrew its ‘wrong’ written statement, regarding the grant of construction rights to the allottees near Old Central Jail Rawalpindi, before the Senate Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production and apologised to the lawmakers, when Senator Farhatullah Babar pointed out that the claim was not based on facts.

The committee, presided over by Senator Mushahid Hussain Sayed, met at the Parliament House to discuss the functions and performance of the MoD and its attached departments. It also took up the issue of denial of building rights to the owners in Rawalpindi by the cantonment board. The ministry in a written statement submitted before the committee had claimed that the Lahore High Court (LHC) had ordered the Punjab government to return the principal amount along with interest to the allottees of plots near the Old Central Jail in Rawalpindi. But Babar challenged the account and warned it could lead to the contempt of court as well as breach of privilege of the committee, if proven wrong. He said the ministry was misquoting the judgement of the honourable court.

The meeting was informed that 25 plots of one kanal each were allotted to successful bidders in 1998 through an open auction at the site of the old jail by the Punjab Housing Department. The allottees not only made full payment but also got the building plans approved. However, they were driven away from the site by the cantonment authorities, while citing security reasons, when they opted to start construction.

“They have been making every possible over for the last 14 years and managed to get a favourable court verdict, but have still not been allowed to build houses, while some of them already died waiting to build their dream homes,” Babar averred.

During the discussion the director general of cantonment boards reiterated the ministry’s written brief, saying the LHC had ordered the Punjab Housing Department to return the principal amount and mark up to the allottees. The DG said the matter of refund to the allottees had to be sorted out between the federal and provincial governments. This was promptly challenged by the Senator Farhatullah Babar who read out excerpts from the LHC verdict of 2006 that had actually directed the cantonment board authorities and other respondents to facilitate the petitioners and not to interfere in the construction on their plots in accordance with the approved plans. The court order even contained directions to the police to register a criminal case against any interference and intrusion from any of the respondents, Senator Babar said while reading out the court order.

Reading out the excerpts from the court verdict the member suggested the defence secretary to rethink the ministry’s position instead of insisting on what appeared to be wrong and factually incorrect. Secretary Defence Nargis Sethi then turned towards the DG Military Lands who conceded that the excerpts quoted by the member reflected the latest judicial verdict in the case. The member also challenged the contention that the cantonment board had sought a review of the judgment or appealed against it.

At this point, Sethi withdrew the written plea submitted to the committee and said she would revert on the issue again during the next meeting. The mover then did not press the issue and thanked the Secretary for promising to have a close look at it.

In reply to a question as to why the Federal Government Educational Institutions (FGEI) had been placed under the Ministry of Defence even after the devolution under 18th Amendment and the decision of Implementation Commission, the secretary said this too would be taken up during the next meeting.

In reply to yet another question about the post of DG cantonment boards being a civilian post the secretary stated that the matter had been agitated by the civilian employees of the department and that the matter to revert the post back to civilian officers of the service was under the consideration of the ministry. Another matter that was discussed related to the acquisition of over 18,000 acres in April 1999 for AFV Range Nowshera at the rate of Rs 88 per marla. The award was challenged in the court of local district judge which accepted the petition and raised the compensation to Rs 589 per marla along with 6 per cent interest.

During appeal against the decision of the additional district Judge Nowshera the PHC ordered the compensation to be raised to Rs 1500 per marla and 6 per cent interest to the respondents from the date the property was acquired.

The defence secretary stated that the Ministry would state its position on the issue during the next meeting upon which the chairman ruled that it be placed on the agenda for its next meeting.

Senators Raja Zafar-ul-Haq, Col (r) Tahir Hussain Mashhadi, Sehar Kamran and Farhatullah Babar as well as Secretary Defence Nargis Sethi and senior officers of the MoD Ministry and heads of some OF its attached departments including PIA, Civil Aviation Authority and cantonment boards attended the meeting.