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LHC stops implementation of the Punjab government’s order to hand over 45,000 acres of land to the army.

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It was revealed on Friday that the Lahore High Court (LHC) has prevented the Punjab caretaker government from transferring at least 45,267 acres of land in Bhakkar, Khushab, and Sahiwal to the Pakistan Army for “Corporate Agriculture Farming.”

Judge Abid Hussain Chattha issued a two-page verdict on Thursday regarding a petition filed by Ahmad Rafay Alam on behalf of the Public Interest Law Association of Pakistan on March 28. A copy of the verdict is available at Dawn.com.

Referring to a notification dated February 20, 2023 and a joint venture agreement dated March 8, the Punjab government signed an agreement to transfer land to the army roughly two weeks ago.

According to the verdict, the LHC has prohibited the Punjab caretaker government from granting any “lease of state land” for the above-mentioned purpose as specified in the government’s notification.

Noting that the petitioner’s arguments “require consideration,” the LHC notified the respondents on May 9 and requested a response by that date.

In addition, notices were sent to the Attorney-General for Pakistan and Punjab, Shan Gul.

The request
Alam had included as respondents in his petition Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman, the Punjab Board of Revenue, the Punjab agriculture secretary, the Punjab forest, wildlife, and fisheries secretary, the Punjab irrigation secretary, and the Punjab livestock & dairy development secretary.

It had requested that the LHC declare that the caretaker government “cannot make major policy decisions” and that the 20 February notification be declared “illegal and null and void.”

Citing a letter dated March 10 sent to the Punjab Board of Revenue, it had also requested that the “transfer of any and all properties/land by and between the respondents” be declared “illegal, null, and void.”

It had argued that the transfer of land was unlawful because Punjab Governor Muhammad Balighur Rehman “is not vested with the authority to sanction the aforementioned notification,” according to the LHC’s ruling.

The judgement stated that the petitioner, citing Section 230 (functions of caretaker government) of the Election Act of 2017, had asserted that the “mandate and scope of the caretaker government is limited to performing day-to-day functions of the government and is expressly prohibited from taking policy decisions of a permanent nature.”

The petition also argued that the Army’s constitutional mandate is limited to performing external and internal security functions and does not extend to “Corporate Agriculture Farming” — the government’s stated objective.

The contract
According to reliable sources, the agreement had been signed by the military, the government of Punjab, and private corporations involved in corporate farming.

According to the document, the military’s land directorate wrote to the Punjab chief secretary, Board of Revenue and secretaries of the agriculture, forest, livestock and irrigation departments for handing over of 42,724-acre land in tehsils Kaloor Kot and Mankera in Bhakkar, 1,818 acres in tehsils Quaidabad and Khushab in Khushab, and 725 acres in tehsil Chichawatni of Sahiwal.

The Punjab government will provide the land, while the army will utilise its resources and retain project management, according to sources familiar with the proposed project’s key characteristics.

On the other hand, the private sector will invest and provide auxiliary support, including the supply of fertilisers.

This development was confirmed by military sources who stated that the army “is not assuming ownership of the land, as it will remain the property of the Punjab government.”

They had also stated that the army would transform the majority of uncultivated and undercultivated land into fertile soil.

At least forty percent of the revenue generated from the cultivation was to be allocated to the Punjab government, twenty percent is to be allocated to modern research and development in the agriculture sector, and the remainder is to be used for subsequent harvests and the expansion of the project.

According to the sources, different varieties of pulses, millets, and rice were to be cultivated in the first phase of the project. This would be followed by extensive canola and wheat cultivation.

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