The Lahore High Court has stopped the Model Town Society (MTS) from leasing out a 10-acre (80 kanal) plot of land for 33 years to a multinational company at Rs 350,000 per kanal per year for setting up a cash and carry store, officials told Daily Times on Sunday.

Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court gave the verdict on December 1, saying the plot was allocated to an orchard and could not be used for a mammoth concrete construction of more than 100,000 square feet for commercial purposes.

The act would infringe upon the right to life guaranteed to the petitioners under Article 19 of the constitution, he said, and as a matter of public safety, a public amenity plot could in no event be used for other purposes. “The proposed project is even otherwise illegal,” the verdict says. The master plan of the society has not been amended to date, it says, where the plot in question has been allocated to an orchard. “Therefore the respondent cannot establish a wholesale commercial outlet [on the site],” it said.

The court said the leasing advertisement for the plot was tailor-made to exclude any other concern and the proposed rate was ridiculously low compared to the market price. The MTS had invited expressions of interest on February 14, 2006 for setting up a market of fresh farm produce and other goods as a joint venture or on lease for Rs 20 million.

Officials said the Punjab government was also pressuring the MTS for the deal with the multinational company that wanted to set up a warehouse on the site. MTS officials said the multinational company had also planned to set up three other cash and carry stores in Lahore, on Ravi Road, Multan Road and Bedian Road. Although the land was allocated to an orchard, it has not been utilised for the last five decades. Land grabbers have seized 2.5-acres of land adjoining the plot. These land grabbers also include a former prime minister”s relative.

Residents of the society and some managing committee members had expressed serious concerns about the deal, which would have been one of the largest commercialisation deals in the society”s history. One of the managing committee members from E block even offered to lease the land for more than Rs 20 million.

Talking to Daily Times, MTS Residents” Association president Amir Bakht Azam welcomed the court”s decision and accused the society”s president of “ruining the MTS master plan”. He said he had met various managing committee members and conveyed the residents” reservations but was told that the provincial government was backing the deal. MTS president Col Tahir Hussain Kardar said that the decision to lease the land was taken to increase the society”s revenue. The society respected the court”s decision however, he added.

Source: Daily Times