CHIEF Justice Saqib Nisar on Tuesday rightly alluded to a basic principle of integrity: no amount of apparent ‘charity’ that is the fruit of ill-gotten gains can negate the dishonesty from which it springs. The chief justice said as much while hearing a review petition by Bahria Town against the verdict pronounced on May 4 by the Supreme Court, which held the real estate developer guilty of illegally acquiring thousands of acres of land to establish a mammoth housing scheme in Karachi’s Malir district. The judgement struck down the transfer as null and void and banned Bahria from selling any plot, built-up unit, apartment, etc in the project. According to a conservative estimate spelled out in the verdict itself, the value of the land alone is such that Bahria’s net earnings from a mere 4,241 acres in the project add up to an eye-watering Rs225bn. NAB has since also weighed in, saying it has “irrefutable evidence” of the massive land grab. During Tuesday’s hearing, Chief Justice Nisar took issue with the fact that Bahria had opened a separate bank account to collect outstanding dues for the project; the verdict had directed the court’s additional registrar to open a special account where such payments could be deposited. Yesterday, he sent the review to a five-member Supreme Court bench.
The real estate developer’s violation of the apex court’s orders is a measure of the impunity with which it believes it can operate. To justify fraud and deceit on the grounds of bringing ‘development’ to the country is a perverse argument. Pakistan cannot be transformed into a “first world country” if there is no rule of law, no accountability for the privileged, and no protection for the marginalised. Among the latter in the Bahria Town Karachi case are indigenous communities who have resided for generations in Malir, earning their living from rain-fed agriculture and livestock farming. Many of them have been pressured and intimidated into surrendering their land. Certainly, those who invest in such projects have legitimate aspirations. But this is where the role of the media as a watchdog for the public interest comes in, a role that it has, with a few exceptions, woefully relinquished where Bahria is concerned. The Supreme Court on May 4 handed down two other separate and equally searing judgements pertaining to Bahria’s projects in Murree and Rawalpindi. One hopes the apex court ensures that those verdicts too are respected.