Pakistan Army has no power to engage in business ventures; rules IHC

ISLAMABAD: The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Wednesday ruled that the country’s army had no power, ‘directly or indirectly,’ to engage in business ventures in a case involving construction, including of a naval golf course, in the Margalla Hills National Park. 

The court order came in response to a petition filed over the alleged failure to implement laws to protect, preserve and manage the Margalla Hills National Park. 

In January this year, the IHC had rejected the Pakistan army’s claim on over 8,000 acres of land and declared two Pakistan Navy projects built on protected land as illegal. 

Islamabad High Court

The court in its detailed order said the Pakistan Army Act 1952, the Air Force Act 1953 and the Pakistan Navy Ordinance, 1961, regulate the discipline and internal working of the respective branches of the Armed Forces but do not empower officers to undertake activity beyond the establishments. 

“There is no provision under the afore mentioned laws which authorizes or empowers the Pakistan Army to undertake, directly or indirectly, activities beyond its composition for the purposes of welfare, unless the Federal Government has expressly granted permission to do so,” said the court order. 

CJP Justice Athar Minallah

 “As a corollary, the Pakistan Army has no power nor jurisdiction to, directly or indirectly, engage in business ventures of any nature outside its composition nor to claim the ownership of state land.” 

The court said the claim by the Veterinary and Farms Directorate of the Pakistan Army regarding 8,068 acres of land in the notified National Park area was in violation of the Ordinance of 1979 read with the Ordinance of 1960 and the Master Plan. 

“The Directorate has no jurisdiction nor the authority to own, use or keep in possession any land within the notified National Park area,” the court said. 

“The Pakistan Army nor its officers are authorized or mandated to undertake, directly or indirectly, any activity such as leasing government land for commercial purpose,” it added. 

“The lease agreement of Monal Restaurant with the Capital Development Authority had expired and its agreement, dated 30.09.2019 with the Remount, Veterinary and Farms Directorate was void and without any legal effect,” court order read. 

The IHC directed the Chairman of the Capital Development Authority to undertake an inquiry to identify the officials responsible for the construction of Monal Restaurant and other buildings in the protected area of the National Park. 

“The Board of the Authority shall thereafter proceed against the officials in accordance with the law,” it added. 

The court said the prestige and special status of the Armed Forces was of paramount importance for the people of Pakistan. 

“The Secretary, Ministry of Defence and Chairman of the Capital Development Authority shall ensure that no controversy is created in future regarding non implementation of the enforced laws within the three sectors allocated for the use of the branches of the Armed Forces in the Islamabad Capital Territory,” the verdict read. 

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) has issued its written verdict in a case declaring the construction of the navy golf course in the federal capital illegal. IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah issued a detailed judgment in the case relating to encroachments in Margalla Hills National Park. The report of the Islamabad-based environment commission has also been included in the detailed decision.

The court declared the construction of the Navy golf course illegal and ordered an inquiry by the Ministry of Defence. The court ordered the defence secretary to conduct a forensic audit of the Navy golf club to assess the damage to the national treasury.

The IHC also rejected the ownership claim of the Pakistan Army Directorate on 8,068 acres of land in the National Park and declared the lease agreement of the Pakistan Army Farms Directorate with Monal Restaurant illegal.

State and government officials have a duty to protect Margalla Hills, and the state has a responsibility to take action against those who violate the fundamental rights of the people, the court ruled.

The involvement of a state agency in the desecration of the Margalla Hills’ protected area is ironic, the court ruled, adding that this was an ideal case of undermining the rule of law.

The court ruled that the state had a duty to take steps to repair the damage to Margalla Hills to prevent further destruction.

The IHC had earlier, on January 11 this year, issued a short order in the same case.