Murree Admin Fails To Check Illegal Construction By Influential Figures

Dawn

MURREE: The Murree Town administration has failed to check the construction of buildings that violate Punjab government by-laws and observations of the Supreme Court, most of which are allegedly being built by leaders of the local PTI chapter and their relatives.

Many of the owners of these illegal multi-storey buildings used to be a part of the PML-N, and moved over to the PTI following the decline of the PML-N.

Murree Municipal Committee Chief Officer Malik Abid told Dawn that cases have been registered against the Green Castle Hotel, which is owned by local PTI leader and former Ghora Gali union council nazim Raja Khalil, as well aslocal PTI leader Sohail Irfan and Raja Haneef, the father-in-law of PTI MNA Sadaqat Ali Abbasi, for extended illegal construction at an already illegal eight-storey hotel just behind the GPO Murree.

Illegal construction in Murree first came to the fore in 2006, when a multi-storey building collapsed on Hall Road and killed three people. Then chief justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Chaudhry took notice of massive illegal construction as a result, and the case was pending in the SC since.

A list of 200 illegally constructed or dangerous buildings was also presented to the court by the Murree town nazim at the time.

The Punjab government has, for the last 11 years, banned all kinds of construction in Murree. In practice, the ban has been ignored by influential political figures who have constructed multi-storey buildings in connivance with Town Municipal Administration (TMA) officials and bureaucrats.

A three-member SC bench headed by then chief justice Saqib Nisar had constituted a one-member commission to investigate illegally constructed buildings and make suggestions in this regard.

The commission consisted of Justice Mehmood Maqbool Bajwa from the Federal Shariat Court, and is about to submit its report. It is investigating malpractice, bribery, the role of TMA officials and political involvement in dangerous and illegally constructed buildings.

According to sources, the commission is collecting detailed information on every building constructed in violation of the government ban and building by-laws. Sources said a number of buildings have been constructed while the ban was in place with fake documents or with no documents at all.

When asked, Mr Abid did not deny the large scale illegal construction carried out by influential individuals but said his department is taking every possible step to stop such construction. He said cases have already been initiated by his department and construction in various areas has been forcibly stopped.

MNA Sadaqat Ali Abbasi also did not deny that illegal construction took place, saying it was carried out by influential individuals in connivance with black sheep in the concerned departments.

He said the TMA’s enforcement and checking staff consists of about half of the necessary personnel and efforts are being made to fill the vacancies.

Mr Abbasi said he has had long meetings with Chief Minister Usman Buzdar and the Punjab chief secretary regarding the ban and by-laws, and they have agreed in principle to lift the ban as soon as the SC decides on illegally constructed buildings so that the by-laws do not conflict with the court decision.

He said the provincial government has proposed that buildings on state land or buildings that are dangerous may be demolished and the rest compounded against a heavy fine to generate revenue.

Hotel owners have been asked to arrange 40pc parking space in proportion to their rooms, but a final decision will be made in light of the SC decision, he said.

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