LAHORE: Justice Sheikh Azmat Saeed of the Lahore High Court (LHC), on Wednesday, extended till first week of July a stay against recovery of commercialisation/conversion fee by Lahore Development Authority (LDA). The judge also postponed the hearing as the LDA counsel did not appear in court on time. The judge was hearing a petition filed by Faiz Ali and others challenging the levy of this fee.

The petitioners’ counsel, Muhammad Azhar Siddique, submitted that under section 23 and 28 of the LDA Act of 1975, the authority had the power of imposing the fee but in the petitioners’ case, the Punjab Housing and Urban Development through the LDA Land Use (Classification, Reclassification, and Redevelopment) Rules 2009 imposed the conversion fee which was not permitted under the law. He said that the LDA Act of 1975 only provided for the authority to charge fees for the betterment, etc, of an area and it had no authority to declare an area commercial and claim fees on this account. The counsel said the petitioners had inherited a 50-year old house in Gulberg, which was under residential use of four families.

However, in order to earn a modest living, they also had a small personal business in a part of the house. He said the petitioners had been regularly paying the annual commercialisation fee to the LDA for the whole of the property, which was increased more than seven times to their surprise last year. The counsel said that paying the fee was now out of question for the petitioners in view of the poor condition and limited scope of business. He contended that in order to clear their liabilities to the LDA the petitioners had to either take loan or sell the property, which they could not do in view of the fact that a suit for partition of the property was pending before the court. Siddique argued that by imposing the fee in question the petitioners were being denied their fundamental rights available under article 9, 16, 23, 24 and 25 of the constitution, which did not allow imposition of the fee in question. Also, if the fee was allowed it would make Article 8 redundant. Siddique said that the objective of the fees was to discourage small businessmen and help big businessmen and plaza owners to create their monopoly. He added that due to the wrong polices of public functionaries, the people were suffering and the judiciary was also affected. He asserted that if bureaucracy mends its ways and introduces a public welfare system, the backlog of cases in courts would definitely reduce. He requested to set aside the fees issue. Earlier, the LDA’s counsel, Salman Siddiqui, had informed that rules had been made with regards to commercialisation fee, which were pending for approval before Housing and Physical Planning Department.