SHC adjourns Webb ground hearing till Oct 4 -Pakistan Press Foundation (PPF)

Paksitan Press Foundtion

SHC adjourns Webb ground hearing till Oct 4

KARACHI: A division bench of the Sindh High Court (SHC) comprising Justice Sarmad Jalal Osmany and Justice Ali Sain Dino Metlo put off Wednesday the hearing of a constitutional petition in the Webb playground case for want of time as cases were adjourned due to the demise of Nooruddin Sarki advocate in the morning.

The bench, however, considering the public importance of the case, heard the counsel for the respondents including a representative of the Ministry of Defence. The bench also perused the photographs taken by co-petitioners Amber Alibhai of NGO Shehri and prima facie held that respondents (Makro Habib) were violating the orders of the court.

The bench warned the counsel for Habib Makro and issued orders for strict compliance of the status quo ordered on the first day of the hearing in the matter and put off the hearing till October 4 due to paucity of time. Mehfooz-un-Nabi Khan, a former councillor and social figure of Lines Area, was also present.

The petitioner has challenged the allotment of a sprawling five-acre playground to Makro Habib Ltd on a thirty-year lease by the Army Welfare Trust (AWT). The disputed ground is a playground in one of the most congested localities of Karachi and belonged first to the defunct Karachi Metropolitan Corporation (KMC) and now to the City District Government Karachi (CDGK).

The petitioners submitted that since the establishment of Pakistan and rehabilitation of the refugees from India, the land has been used for recreational activities and its commercialization would have a negative impact on the city’s environment. They have cited as respondents the CDGK, project director Lines Area Development Project, Karachi Building Control Authority (KBCA) chief controller, Sindh environment secretary, AWT general manager and Habib Makro Limited.

The petitioners informed the bench that the status quo order was passed by the court on August 22 and was being violated. CDGK EDO Law Manzoor Ahmed also raised the issue and hoped that the respondents would leave the remaining portion of the ground as it is.

Justice (retd) Mushtaq A Memon, counsel for Habib Makro Limited, had earlier submitted that no violation of the status quo was being caused. He referred to the report of Nazir of the SHC. The soft-spoken and normally cool EDO Law had been enraged at the response at the earlier hearing and remarked that the “Nazir has just put his signature on the report” to which the counsel for Makro Habib responded that this was a very serious allegation.

Alibhai submitted that she had photographed the place. She suggested taking more photographs today (Thursday) so that the court itself could judge whether its order was violated or not.

The court agreed to her suggestion and also that of Justice Memon that a judicial officer must accompany the petitioner when the photographs were being taken. The court appointed Deputy Registrar Sanaullah Ghauri to supervise the photographing while Makro Habib counsel was asked to facilitate.

The petitioner maintains that the only recreational spot in the area was leased out to Makro overnight, depriving the students, youth and players of the area from the only place they had for their positive activities. The agreement between AWT and Makro Habib is also invalid on moral grounds as the AWT claims to be a welfare organization but its work is contrary to its name, counsel for the petitioner submitted.

The petitioners prayed to the court to declare that Karachi needs more playgrounds, libraries and recreational spaces, and declare that Webb ground can only be used as a playground. They prayed that the court direct the official respondents to restore Webb ground.

According to the documents placed on court file, AWT and Makro Habib entered into an agreement of a lease for an initial term of 30 years against an annual rent of rupees 17.5 million. An amount of rupees 100 million was paid in advance by Makro Habib
Source: Daily Times