Court stops NAB from investigating govt officials in cases relating to Bahria Town
Pakistan’s top court accepted on Thursday Bahria Town’s offer to pay Rs460 billion to acquire 16,896 acres off Karachi’s Super Highway.
This does not include Bahria Town’s Sports City project. People who bought plots in the project will be reimbursed or merged into other projects.
On May 4, 2018 the court ruled that the Malir Development Authority illegally granted the land to Bahria Town.
The Sindh government had allotted the land to the MDA to build a housing scheme. The MDA, however, exchanged the land with Bahria Town, the court said. Bahria Town was even barred from selling any plots or apartments in the housing scheme. The top court has been hearing a case on the implementation of its verdict.
Bahria Town has made several proposals to get the land transferred to it. The court had rejected all those offers.
The court has stopped NAB from investigating or filing references against any persons, including government officials, affiliated with Bahria Town. Now, the accountability bureau will have to get the court’s permission before initiating an investigation.
“No reference can be filed without the court’s permission,” the order said. If Bahria Town violates the court order, then an investigation will be launched against it, ruled the judges.
The payment process
Bahria Town has been ordered to release the amount in seven years. It will submit a down payment of Rs25 billion by August 27, then it will give Rs2.5 billion every month for four years and the remaining amount in the next three years.
The money will be submitted in the account set up by the Supreme Court. The land will be transferred to Bahria Town’s name after they pay the full amount. Bahria Town had asked for the immediate transfer of the land onto its name. Bahria Town will have to pay a 4% markup.
Bahria Town residents will be given 99-year leases.
The Sindh advocate-general said that the amount should be transferred to the Sindh government. “The money hasn’t come and you have already started fighting over it,” remarked Justice Azmat Saeed.
The Sindh government said that it didn’t incur any losses, said Justice Faisal Arab. “We even know the amount that the Sindh government agreed upon.” Justice Saeed said that we know who the land belonged to as well.
The court rejected the request to give the amount to the Sindh government.
What happens if Bahria Town defaults?
In case Bahria Town fails to submit two continuous installments or a total of three installments, it will be considered a default.
Bahria Town has given the guarantee of Danzoo (day and night zoo), its parks and the Cine Gold cinema for the payment, the court noted.
They will be investigated according to the law if they default on payment, according to the court. If they violate the contract, then NAB will have the right to file a reference against them, it added.
Lawsuits against Bahria Town
One of the law suits against Bahria Town was filed in 2015 by Faiz Gabol of Langheji Goth.
There were two types of land that were under dispute, one owned by the government and the other by locals, Gabol’s lawyer Mushtaq Memon said. “I had advised my clients to go to the Supreme Court, but they didn’t,” he said, adding that their case remained stuck in the Sindh High Court.
“If the land, which the court has cleared, includes the piece claimed by my client, they should definitely go to court and appeal against this verdict,” Gabol said, adding the maps of the area were not clear so he can’t comment on whether his clients’ land is included in the judgment and that he will be able to talk more about it after he sees the details.
In 2015, the Karachi Indigenous Rights Alliance was formed to in reaction to the Bahria Town land acquisition, which they said had affected dehs in the Malir area. The alliance was headed by Saleem Baloch who was supported by heavyweights such as then State Minister for Communication MNA Hakeem Baloch, MPA Haji Shafi Jamot of Malir’s PS-129, historian Gul Hasan Kalmatti, Jam Abdul Kareem of Malir, well-known activist Yousaf Masti Khan and former nazim Khuda Dino Shah.
At the time, they had argued that the Supreme Court had in 2011 passed an order telling the government that it could not allot its land to private institutions. But the Bahria Town developments in Malir, especially Deh Langheji, came and were also in contravention to the Land Revenue Act 1967 and the Sindh Gothabad Act 1987, they had said.
Just days before the judgment on Thursday, the Alliance surfaced to hold a press conference at the Karachi Press Club. They said that they wanted the May Supreme Court judgement implemented. Usman Baloch, Yusuf Mastikhan, Abdul Khaliq Junejo, and KU academic and Sindhi folklore expert Rakhman Palari said that they wanted the project to be “annulled” in accordance with the 2018 judgment.
Prices could go up
Property prices in Bahria Town Karachi sank last year after the Supreme Court put a hold on it selling plots until a verdict was reached. As the case proceeded, investors began to fear that the court may ultimately rule against the real estate giant. As a result, the price of Bahria Town Karachi remained low with some plots offering negative return to investors.
“I bought a plot for more than Rs7 million, the price I am getting for it now is Rs5 million. Why would I sell it for a loss?” Babar Siddiqi, a resident of Gulshan-e-Hadeed who bought a 250-square-yard plot in precinct (block) 44, told SAMAA Digital earlier this week.
Real estate experts as well as some dealers we spoke to days before the judgment confirmed there were no buyers and everyone was waiting for the SC verdict.
Anticipating a positive verdict, dealers, their agents and sub agents sprang into action recently and started convincing people to buy. “Our rozi [earnings] is linked to this project, we prayed a lot for a positive verdict,” said one dealer, who said he received several calls from existing and potential clients minutes after TV channels aired the news of the verdict.
“The response is overwhelming,” said another dealer.
The verdict will result in an increase in prices as more buyers will come, agents say. But how much of an effect it has on prices can only be determined by the forces of demand and supply. However, another factor that influences prices at Bahria Town Karachi is a network of property dealers.
“There are a host of dealers, many authorized, who play a major role in moving the prices up and down,” said one dealer. They sell and purchase plots among themselves and their subagents, which creates artificial demand and pushes the prices up, he said.
This was quite evident from a recent increase in prices ahead of March 13, the date of the last Bahria Town hearing. Some dealers were expecting a verdict on March 13 and started buying in anticipation but the court put off the verdict till March 21 and prices went down again.
Now that the court has accepted Bahria Town’s offer and the matter has been settled, investors’ interest in the project has increased, which will drive prices up.