Why So Jealous?
The defence housing societies everywhere are the top societies of Pakistan, but why are we jealous of this? Why are we jealous if somebody gets a piece of land, even if just a kanal, cheap when it was initially granted and much more valuable later on because of the good work done by the society? What is the problem? Why are we jealous of this? There shouldn’t be any problem at all.
A similar statement was given by former President Musharraf at the inauguration of a desalination plant in DHA (Defence Housing Authority) Karachi in August 2004. Although DHAs enjoy the excellent repute of secure title transfers, personal security and admirable livelihood, considering these military ventures not a ‘problem’ would be naive. Ranked as the largest urban land-holder, Pakistan military has climbed this ladder while violating many legal principles. This analysis will try to demonstrate the “problems” that occur in the legal system when these societies acquire state lands and then use them unconstitutionally. The policy of grabbing land via legal instruments like the Land Acquisition Act 1894 (which only allows land to be taken for public interest) which can easily be manipulated given the loopholes therein, is setting eerie trends.
Historically, the Ottomans used to reward their soldiers in generous cash and land grants to ensure loyalty of their generals. Mongols and Mughals too in order to secure allegiance of their top military cadre granted them with vast areas of land. European invaders used to reward their armored cavalry and used to give some generals the right to collect tax directly from the people. These land appropriations along with loyalty of soldiers also ensured a status of power and influence. Shortly after the mutiny of 1857, in order to suppress social unrest, the British as a state policy awarded their “loyal” by granting them agricultural lands near water resources. Punjab Alienation of Land Act 1900 further rewarded those serving British interests by providing canals to their respective areas. Moreover, 10% of the ‘colonized land’ given was to be allocated to the British army as well. These laws certainly had feudal and nepotist underpinnings as lands were being distributed unfairly. Although the Pakistani armed forces are among the most disciplined, effective and modern armed forces in the globe, senior officials have never shown reluctance to this colonial tradition. Later displaced with Colonization of Land Act 1912 Pakistan military uses this “inherited” law to provide land grants to its retired and serving officials at highly subsidized rates.
Although the legal framework allows military to distribute agricultural lands to its personnel, the last 15 years have witnessed the unprecedented growth of military urban land acquisitions. Under a welfare system, Pakistan Army has directly provided 46 housing schemes for its officials but unfortunately none of them has been for an ordinary jawan. Many schemes in the past were initiated in theory but were never materialized. The Auditor General’s report of 1998 highlights the institutionalized hegemony practiced by Army Housing Directorate.
Commercialization of cantonment areas and conversion of state land into residential plots perhaps reflects the proprietory mindset in the military. Cantonments which operate under the Military Land Manual were provided with lands for operational use such as barracks, firing ranges and housing for the military. For instance, General Kayani was granted a residential plot carved out of Lahore Garrison Club in 2008, the land which was meant for recreational purposes. Unfortunately many of the cantonment lands are converted into residential and commercial plots without the consent of the government. Lahore Cantonment for instance is now a fully commercial area with no restriction on civilian access to it. Former General Ayub Khan is known to be the norm-setter when a Cantonment house was built on B-2 categorized land, which is contrary to the Military Land Manual. This attitude has further extended towards other departments as well. Pakistan Navy for instance has constructed Bahria Complex on land which was appropriated for operational uses while profits generated were never submitted to the public exchequer. Pakistan Rangers noticing the trend has followed suit, taking control of over 100 km of coastal lakes in Balochistan and Sindh since 1977, primarily because of the Indian threat. Furthermore, Rangers disallowed local fisherman to fish in these captured lakes and later sold the fishing permits to big contractors. This is another example of how the military imposes its authority and exploits local resources to its use without taking into account the effect it would make on the local populace (numbers of the fisherman reduced from 7,000 to 300 in these areas).
Interestingly, General Musharraf who seems to find no issue in the “good work” of the society has disclosed assets worth PKR 600 million mainly due to land grants. He owns around 8 properties including 2000 square yard land in DHA Karachi, 1200 square yard plot in Morgah Rawalpindi, 900 square yard plot in Peshawar, 50 acres of agricultural land in Bahawalpur and an infamous farmhouse in Islamabad. Surely this reflects the magnitude of the generous grants senior military fraternity avails. With many other high-ranked officers receiving the same perks, having the most stakes in these ventures, it is not surprising why prices escalate to 100 times what Musharraf stated above. Another factor which primarily contributes to the price escalation is that although officers are provided with the plots, there is no restriction on further sale to a civilian which ultimately increases speculation and capital flows in the market. Surprisingly, retired officials are not liable to pay property taxes or file any returns, most of the tax DHA submits comes from sales to the civilian population which occupies a handsome amount of residences.
In 2009 DHA illegally transferred 7 km long commercial land to Bahria Town which later on sold plots to 110,000 civilians and 41,000 serving and retired officers. To date, progress on the project which once promised high investment returns, has been halted. Later, as notified by a former DHA employee, this project was one of the biggest scams. Various high profile military cadres were involved, but NAB despite rendering them ‘shady’ provided them with clean chits. Suit no 1294 of 2011 Sindh High Court points out that competitors were unfairly kept out of the bidding procedures in DHA administration, leading to violations of various PPRA (Public Procurement Regulatory Authority) rules. Even Transparency International Pakistan insisted that the Ministry of Defence look up the matter, which resulted in letters to DHA authorities to follow PPRA regulations. Another “good work” which DHA has done in order to raise the price by 100 times is the destruction of 490 acres of mangroves in DHA phase 8 Karachi. Party to the Kyoto Protocol, the act attracts international law violations as it stipulates to upkeep the population of mangroves against global warming. As reported in Dawn, the land was under litigation under the Indian Forestry Act 1927 and ‘benami contracts’, but nothing could resist the military’s will owing to its superiority. The Dhadocha Dam incident must also not go unnoticed. In 2005 DHA mischievously granted Bahria Town with 70,000 kanals of land to build housing schemes. 30,000 kanals were acquired by DHA from Punjab Government committing to replace Rawal dam. In 2015 the then Additional Advocate General Punjab submitted a report to the Supreme Court which proposed the dam to be built on the original site. Although the court made it clear to the Punjab government to take action against those responsible for the delay of the dam, no decent progress has yet been made.
The military justifies its commercial ventures as a means to provide welfare to its cadres. In addition to being a real-estate champion, the military also has various other corporations generating billions in revenue. Projects like the Fauji Foundation and Frontier Works Organization (FWO) indulge themselves in commercial businesses including mergers and joint ventures, and work as a corporation and sort of private limited company. It should be noted that these economic operations are a burden on the national budget as these operation use the defense budget to finance deficits. From a legal standpoint, these operations operate under discriminatory and segregated law which encourages lack of transparency. These foundations and others such as the Shaheen Foundation and AWT were formed under Charitable Endowment Act 1890 or the Societies Registration Act 1860 as private entities, which does not oblige their accounts to be audited by the Auditor General of Pakistan.
Such acts by the military which lead to institutionalized corruption persist in order to sustain superiority of the army over the rule of law. A statement by a Major General can elaborate on the military hegemony over civilian authorities: in a television program Capital Talk he was of the view that, “The needs of the army will be decided by the army itself, and the government will decide this. Nobody has the right to say what the army can do with 5,000 or 17,000 acres. The needs of the army will be determined by the army itself.” No dispute can arise over the fact that he surely considered the army as a separate entity above the rule of law and provided evidence as to the the mindset of superiority. Early biographers of Umar bin Khattab have admired every aspect of his abilities as an administrator. In his era, cantonments were established far away from the local population, so that the military could not be influenced by the lavish lifestyles of citizens. According to him, a soldier till his death owes allegiance to Allah and fights only for the glory of Islam. Military under his era was not given any land grants or tax collection, but was paid in cash and provided with allowances. In harvest seasons, families of soldiers were provided with further allowances.
One would appreciate the fact that the above-mentioned manner in which lands are acquired is a big “problem”. With little or no respect for judicial and civilian institutions, the military continues to monopolize its interests. What Musharraf mentioned as jealousy is perhaps the frustration of civil authorities that factually do not enjoy these privileges. As an inspiring ‘Muslim’ army, renunciation of colonial inherited customs is the need of the moment. Not only does it portray the army as invaders, it also benefits a handful of opportunists. What the army should realize is that in the 21st century, feudal mindset cannot persist. No government institution should be immune to the legal paradigm and displacements of the national budget should be made more transparent and documented. If the army claims to be the most disciplined one, then it certainly needs to take progressive steps to ultimately cherish the repute it enjoys.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of CourtingTheLaw.com or any organization with which he might be associated.