ISLAMABAD: The Chief Justice of Pakistan (CJP) Gulzar Ahmed on Tuesday questioned the military for conducting commercial activities on government land and said that the laws under which the army engages in commercial activities are “unconstitutional”.
The remarks came during a hearing related to a case against commercial activities taking place on Karachi’s cantonment and military lands. A three-member bench was hearing the case at the Supreme Court’s Karachi registry.
Defence Secretary (Retired) Lieutenant General Mian Hilal appeared in the court and presented a report which was declared “unsatisfactory” by the judge.
The court observed that strategic lands can only be used for defence purposes as per the law, and directed the defence secretary to submit a report within four months.
Addressing the attorney general, CJP Ahmed inquired how would he restrict the use of military lands for defence purposes only.
During the hearing, the defence secretary asked for permission to speak and said: “The scope of the term strategic objectives is wide and commercial activities also fall under the strategic defence. These activities are meant to keep the armed forces’ morale high.”
“You are saying that commercial use is [fulfilment of] defence objectives. What is defence then?” CJP Ahmed asked while addressing the defence secretary.
He said that cinemas, petrol pumps, housing societies, marriage halls and shopping centres “are not defence-related objectives”.
“This is the government’s land and it will go back to the government if it is not used for defence purposes,” the CJP added.
The CJP added that laws under which the Pakistan Army engages in commercial activities are “unconstitutional” and questioned, “how can the army even conduct commercial activities on state land?”
Justice Ahmed said that it is “not possible to allow the army’s illegal constructions to stand”.
The chief justice noted that all illegal buildings are being demolished in Karachi and noted that large walls have been erected on Karsaz road and the service road has been pushed further away from the road.
“If we let these remain, how will we demolish other buildings and structures?” he remarked.
He said cantonment land cannot be divided into different categories.
Justice Ahmed remarked that the Pearl Marquee and Grand Convention Hall are still standing.
“The wall running alongside the Kala Pul and the Grand Convention Hall must be knocked down today,” he said.
“Large walls have been constructed on Karsaz and Rashid Minhas road for advertisements. This is state’s land,” he added.
Justice Ahmed said this practice is “found on cantonment board lands all over the country”.
“CSD has also been made an open, commercial department store,” he said, referring to the Canteen Stores Department chain of retail stores headquartered in Rawalpindi.
“A building was erected on Gizri Road overnight. We had barely woken up in the morning and they constructed the building,” he continued.
The chief justice then asked the defence secretary what his plans ahead are, to which the secretary responded by saying that a committee of all the three military services has been formed which will identify illegal constructions.