The Lahore High Court (LHC) has put a stop to the transfer of 45,267 acres of land on lease to the Pakistan Army for corporate farming purposes. The decision comes after the Punjab caretaker government had approved the transfer of land to the army in three districts of Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal on a 20-year lease, with the possibility of an extension for another 10 years.
The Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan (Pilap) filed a petition against the agreement and subsequent notification by the caretaker government, arguing that the notification was illegal, and the caretaker government had no power under the constitution to make such a decision. The petition also contended that the handing over of state land was an impermissible act under the Elections Act 2017.
Justice Abid Hussain Chattha heard the petition on Friday, which was filed by Pilap through its advocates Ahmad Rafay Alam and Fahad Malik. The counsel argued that the caretaker government’s scope was limited to day-to-day functions and could not make policy decisions of a permanent nature. Advocate Malik noted that giving state land for 30 years was a permanent decision that could not have been taken by the caretaker government.
Moreover, exercising powers under Section 10 of the Colonization of Government Lands (Punjab), Act 1912 did not fall under the category of permissible actions by a caretaker government under the Elections Act, 2017. The purported handing over of the land violated the Doctrine of Public Trust, which mandates that the government protects natural resources and cannot give them away to private citizens arbitrarily.
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The court’s decision came after hearing the arguments, and Justice Chattha issued an order to not hand over the land for corporate farming. The judge also served notices to the respondents to submit their reports by May 9. The counsel argued that the Pakistan Army Act, 1952, did not empower the entity to undertake any activity beyond its scope for welfare unless the federal government granted permission to do so. Moreover, the army has no jurisdiction to directly or indirectly engage in business ventures outside its scope, nor can it claim any state land for corporate agriculture farming.
The court’s decision has halted the land transfer, and the issue remains unresolved. The verdict is seen as a significant development in the ongoing debate about state land’s ownership and the role of the Pakistan Army in the country’s economic activities.