PESHAWAR: The case challenging the vires of the ignominious 1975 notification came up for hearing before a divisional bench of the Peshawar High Court (PHC) consisting of Justice Ibrahim Khan and Justice Syed Arshad Ali in Tuesday.
The 1975 notification declares all mountains, wastelands, barren lands, jungles, pastures, chiragahs and shikargahs to be the property of the government. Its interpretation is prone to the mischief whereby the government has arbitrarily declared lands of its choice to be falling within the notification’s ambit and thereby is asserting propietary title over 97pc of the land mass of the districts of Upper and Lower Chitral.
A large number of Chitralis appeared before the court and were represented by Barrister Asad-ul-Mulk. Also in attendance was advocates Muhibullah Tarichvi and Kausar from Chitrlal.
At the outset of the hearing, Additional Advocate General Atif Ali Khan submitted before the court that it was Advocate General Shumail Ahmad Butt’s desire to plead the case himself in view of the case’s gravity and the government also desired to place certain judgments with precedential value before the court and accordingly requested that the case may be adjourned.
Barrister Asad-ul-Mulk in rebuttal acknowledged that the Advocate General was a busy man with many important engagements, but the case on one pretence or the other was being adjourned by the government since 2019, and it was about time the court started taking note of the delaying tactics on part of the government.
Justice Ibrahim Khan went through several of the previous order sheets and read them aloud in court and confronted the additional advocate general saying the government and the advocate general had repeatedly given assurance to the court that the case would be argued and now they were backtracking.
Justice Syed Arshad Ali asked the additional advocate general to contact the advocate general and convey to him that the court wanted him to appear before it and thus it would wait for his attendance.
The additional advocate general after inquiring about the whereabouts of the advocate general informed the court that that the latter was in a meeting with the chief minister and thus his attendance on the day would not be possible.
Justice Ibrahim Khan reproaching the law officer said that propietary rights were constitutional rights and when a multitude of people from two districts had expressed grave concerns about the propietary of land settlement process in view of the fact that 97pc of the total land mass of two districts had been entered in the Government’s name, how could the Court shut its eyes to such a plight.
Barrister Asad-ul-Mulk pointed out that the Supreme Court had also rendered an authoritative rule in respect of unsettled lands in 2022 in the case of government of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa through Secretary Home and Tribal Affairs Department v Noorani Gul and others. He explained that the apex court had ruled that land settlement could not be carred out in a haphazard manner but rather had to conform to the mandatory provisions related to land settlement in the Land Revenue Act 1967.
He then went on to explain a number of ways in which the provisions of the Land Revenue Act 1967 had been flouted while carrying out land settlement in Chitral.
In view of the culminating legal discourse the judges observed that they could not vacate the interm injunction already granted and adjourned the case till 8th November 2022, with directions to the Advocate General to appear in person.
The injunction allows the settelment process to continue and further enjoins the government to entertain applications for rectification of wrongful entries in the land registers but inhibits the government from passing a final order or concluding the settlement process.
As per the directions of the high court the land revenue and settlement record of the districts of Upper and Lower Chitral will remain in Chitral and cannot be transferred to the Senior Member Board of Revenue or the commissioner Malakand till the decision of the case.