Misuse of agro-farms: SC scuttles move to legalise violations

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ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court on Thursday gave the capital’s civic agency three weeks to restore the status of agricultural farms and ensure that they are in consonance with the terms spelt out in the original lease. Questioning several amendments introduced by city managers in the by-laws regarding the development of agricultural farms, the court directed the Capital Development Authority (CDA) to revert back to the original set of laws.

The orders were issued by a three-member bench headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry which resumed hearing of a suo motu case against the misuse of agro-farms in the federal capital.

During the hearing, the court took exception of drastic changes in the by-laws to increase the covered area at agricultural farms.

“The covered area has been extended from 2,500 square feet to 10,000 square feet without any justification to accommodate influential people, who have been continuously violating the terms and conditions of the agro-farms’ development,” Chief Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry observed.

CDA official Mustafain Kazmi informed the court that they were in the process of preparing a summary to reduce the covered area from 10,000 square feet to 5,000 square feet. The summary will soon be presented to the CDA board, the member planning and design said. However, the court termed his statement mala fide and observed that one could not regularise violations on agricultural land by paying a fine.

The court took exception to a statutory regulatory order (SRO) issued by CDA last month to provide legal cover to earlier decisions which had permitted extensions in the covered area.

“Rules and regulations were amended to benefit influential people and the SRO is a clear example of how interested CDA is in implementing the court order,” observed the bench. The apex court, once again, directed the CDA chairman to take personal interest in restoring the agro-farms to their original status.

During the proceedings, Munir Paracha, CDA’s counsel apprised the court that the authority had cancelled the allotment of 10 agricultural farms.

Earlier, CDA had served final notices to owners of 87 agro-farms which remain undeveloped to this day. The court adjourned the case for three weeks.

Agro-farm owners were asked to pay fines for not developing the land, failing which their plots’ allotment would be cancelled without further notice. However, owners of only 14 agro-farms paid fines, while cases of 13 agro-farms were under process for recovery of fines.

Constructions on agro-farms beyond the permissible limit were razed at 12 agricultural farms, while owners of three agro-farms obtained stay orders from the courts.

Initially, the covered area for agro-farms was 2,500 square feet. The covered area at an agro-farm is treated as the residence of the farm manager. In 1995 the covered area was enhanced to 5,000 square feet, and in September 2004 it was revised, once again, and scaled up to 7,700 square feet to facilitate influential buyers who were purchasing these farms to build palatial houses.

In December 2004, it was extended to 10,000 square feet, with the additional relaxation that violation of up to 2,500 square feet could be regularised after paying a fine of Rs500 per square feet. The maximum number of storeys was also enhanced to two floors in addition to the basement. Even though the covered area was enhanced from 2,500 square feet to 12,500 square feet, there were over two dozen cases of violations.

 

Courtesy: Tribune


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