IHC orders demolition
of navy’s farmhouses,
sailing club in Islamabad

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ISLAMABAD: Declaring the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club and farmhouses constructed on the national park land illegal, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Friday ordered their demolition and issued directions to initiate criminal proceedings against former naval chief Zafar Mehmud Abbasi and other officials for approving the illegal constructions.

In a 45-page judgement, IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah ordered the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to take over the naval farmhouses, saying that navy had “trespassed on the land situated on the embankment of Rawal Lake, and that too in a protected national park area”.

According to a Dawn report, it noted that the club building “shall not be regularized in any manner for having been illegally constructed in an ecologically sensitive area in violation of the mandatory provisions.”

The court also declared that the occupation of the land was “illegal, without lawful authority and jurisdiction”.

A file view of the Pakistan Navy’s sailing club in Islamabad.

The navy has been ordered to cease all its activities on Rawal Lake and hand over the land to the Small Dams Organisation, while the court ordered the Islamabad Wildlife Management Board to restore the natural habitat in the lake’s surroundings.

The court also appointed environmental law expert Dr Pervaiz Hassan as a one-person Implementation Commission to give effect to the Environment Commission’s recommendations regarding Rawal Lake and to investigate the environmental damage caused.

In addition, the auditor general has been directed to “conduct a forensic audit of PN Farms and Sailing Club to ascertain the loss caused to the exchequer, which shall be recovered from the officers found responsible for committing illegalities in relation to the respective ventures.”

In its verdict, the court noted that “the engagement of the armed forces in an activity which is a transgression from the constitutional mandate e.g. undertaking commercial or real estate ventures etc. is definitely not in the public interest. Its coercive power, strength and discipline can only be used for the restricted functions prescribed under the Constitution rather than using these characteristics to enforce its will on the people that created it.”

“Engaging in such undertakings, on the one hand, compromises the professionalism, integrity, cohesion of the Armed Forces while on the other it weakens the civilian institutions and becomes a cause for distraction from the core function. It damages the relationship of the Armed Forces with the people and the society,” the verdict noted.

The verdict was issued on a petition filed in the year 2020 by a citizen against the construction of the navy club and denial of citizens’ access to the lake.

The club was first sealed by the court in July 2020 after CDA and navy failed to provide a plausible justification for the construction of such a structure on the banks of a water reservoir. However, non-commercial activities were later allowed at the facility.

In a written response in Aug 2020, former naval chief Zafar Mehmud Abbasi had claimed that the facility on the banks of Rawal Lake was “neither a club in the traditional sense nor is it a commercial enterprise”, maintaining that it a sports facility that had been established on the federal government’s directive after obtaining approval of environmental experts.

In the verdict, the IHC chief justice noted that the two ventures, PN Farms and the PN Sailing Club were directly or indirectly undertaken by the navy illegally and executed in violation of the enforced law. Criticising the role of civic agencies such as CDA and the Environmental Protection Agency , the judgement noted: “The relevant authorities and regulators looked the other way and felt satisfied with the issuance of notices as a mere formality.”