TERENCE J SIGMONY
ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court conditionally allowed Pakistan Railways to lease its land after getting approval of its rules from the Parliament or the federal cabinet.
A three-judge bench, headed by Chief Justice Umar Ata Bandial, on Thursday, heard the review petition of the federal government against the SC lease ban order.
Former chief justice in January 2019 had barred Pakistan Railways from leasing its land in Centre and the provinces for five years. However, in June 2021 ex-CJP Gulzar Ahmed, hearing the case of circular railways at SC Karachi Registry, imposed a complete ban and stopped the authorities from selling, transferring, and leasing the lands owned by railways.
The chief justice said the status of the land intended to be leased should not be changed, adding no construction be made on the Railways land that has parks.
The Railways should get the approval of its rules regarding the lease of land from the parliament or cabinet.
Earlier, Additional Attorney General Aamir Rehman submitted the Railways business plan. The bench on January 4, 2023, had sought a detailed report from Pakistan Railways regarding its land and future planning to make the institution profitable.
He informed that presently, the Railways total land is 169,000 acres. Out of that 126,000 acres is in used for operation purpose, while 16,742 acres is kept for future planning, told Rehman. The report said that 9,985 acres of land is encroached, while 10,750 acres of land is on lease.
The AAG stated that after the Supreme Court’s order Railways’ income worth Rs2.5 billion stopped.
The chief justice noted that the report did not provide the detail of income and expenditure. Railways secretary requested the bench to allow the Railways to keep its share after giving the land on lease.
The chief justice said it is not the job of the State to do business, adding all over the world, state institutions do not involve in business in the traditional sense. He further said the State institutions are in losses because they are overburdened. He said any department before conducting business should get permission from the parliament or cabinet.
Justice Ijazul Ahsan noted that it is no solution that the Railways by leasing out its land to overcome its losses. He said if the Railways start doing on the State land then it would affect the public trust, adding the Railways should be careful in its business plan, as it could not ignore market dynamics. He said that for continuity, the Railways should have an effective plan, and reduce its expenses.
The chief justice said that Railways should grow jungle on its unused 6,000 acres of land, adding the best use of agri land is to grow jungle.
Barrister Zafarullah, appearing on behalf of Railways, said if the court permits then the policy and rules for Railways would be placed before the cabinet.
The chief justice said that there should be a reasonable justification behind the Railways plans.