ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court has ordered Rawalpindi District Coordination Officer (DCO) Sajjid Zafar Dall to submit a demarcation report of around 1,416 acres of forest land, allegedly encroached upon by the Bahria Town Housing Society in 2005. The land was originally owned by the Rawalpindi Forest Department.

The directions were issued by a three-judge Supreme Court bench, headed by Chief Justice Nasir-ul-Mulk that had taken up a suo motu hearing on an application by Malik Mohammad Shafi.

In his petition, Shafi contended that Bahria Town acquired two separate pieces of land illegally and destroyed the forest area there to make way for housing units.

The application was first moved in 2009, where the applicant alleged that the pieces of land were illegally occupied, in collusion with revenue department officials.

Punjab govt yet to furnish demarcation report, keeps asking for more time
The dispute involves the illegal occupation of 684 acres in the Rakh Takht Pari forest and 732.5 acres of Lohi Bheer forest by Bahria Town.

When the case was last heard on May 13, 2013, then-Rawalpindi DCO Rashid Mehmood and Divisional Forest Officer (South) Ijaz Ahmed told the Supreme Court that Islamabad police and Rangers personnel had thwarted an attempt by the forest department to demarcate the land in the Takhat Pari area on September 7, 2011 by imposing a ban on ‘unlawful assembly’ in the area.

The court was told that this was done at the behest of Bahria Town, whose management had also held forest officials hostage for a couple of hours.

The former DCO had also told the court that the Rawalpindi Board of Revenue had already cancelled the mutation entries of these lands in favour of Bahria Town on September 10, 2012.

Tehsildar (collector) Noor Zaman, who had led the team attempting to demarcate forest land, could identify those law enforcement officials who had prevented them from carrying out their duties, he said.

On July 22, 2014, authorities from Punjab had sought a period of 45 days to submit the land demarcation report, but the court gave them only 30 days and postponed further proceedings for August 25.

When the case taken up again, another request was made on behalf of the DCO, seeking more time. The court then gave them another three weeks.

On Oct 20 this year, Additional Advocate General Punjab Razzaq A Mirza had told the apex court that despite earlier court orders, the demarcation report had not yet been finalised.

He told the court that demarcation had been carried out by a specially-constituted committee and employed modern global positioning (GPS) technology as well as old maps from the Survey of Pakistan.

Now, proceedings in the matter have been adjourned until November 17, when the DCO has been asked to appear in person with the report.

Takhat Pari is located at six kilometres from Rawalpindi city near G. T. Road with a total area of 2,210 acres. The land originally transferred to the Forest Department in August 4, 1856.

An earlier report submitted by the Punjab government suggested that nearly all of the Rakh Takht Pari area is natural shrub forest, dominated by “phulai and sanatha bushes”.

Neither the Takht Pari forests or private holdings (mostly shamlat) were previously identified or earmarked, the report said.

The Bahria Town management had allegedly begun construction on the encroached lands by developing roads and residential areas in the Takhat Pari area, knowing full well that the land belonged to the forest department.

Bahria Town’s counsel Ali Zafar, meanwhile, challenged the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court to hear the matter, arguing that the case at hand concerned a private piece of land and the dispute was between Bahria Town and the forest department, which should be settled by the concerned court through a civil suit.

He asked how the Supreme Court could take up the matter when a civil suit filed by Bahria Town is currently pending before a Rawalpindi civil judge and a number of ordinary civil suits are also being heard by other courts.

Published in Dawn, October 26th, 2014